Support Canadian Writers This Holiday Season

I’ve been pleased to hear that most people I know are challenging the rampant consumerism of the upcoming holiday season. Lots of us participate in gift swaps, only shop for the kids, make and bake presents or insist on a no-gift policy with our friends and families. Many more people acknowledge that they don’t even celebrate Christmas or that the holidays they do celebrate during this time traditionally don’t involved the exchange of gifts. Some are reclaiming the spirituality of these holydays and refocussing on things that don’t cost money.

I love all that.

But if you are going to be shopping this holiday season, why not support Canadian writers, most of whom make very little for their efforts? Here’s how:

buy Canadian books and magazines! And while you’re doing that, don’t just purchase the works of the most well-known authors (although they do deserve your support too)…branch out and take a look at the smaller, lesser known ones. Check out small presses, chapbooks and home-made zines.

skip the big box bookstores, both online and on the street. You know who they are. Typically, they demand hugely unfair discounts from publishers, special “fees” to shelve books in prominent locations of the store, and don’t even stock smaller press books or lesser known magazines, let along chapbooks and zines. Skip them! The masses are already shopping there! Instead, go to your local independent bookstore. These stores tend to support a broad range of writing, don’t demand extra fees from publishers and buy at the accepted 40% discount. They also tend to act as local community hubs, and often organize great speakers, readings and courses. In Toronto, my favourites include the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Type Books, and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library

But maybe you live in a community that no longer has an independent bookstore because your local WalMart or Costco is now selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul”? Well, I have a solution for you too!

Buy direct from the author, if they offer that option on their website. This allows the writer to earn a 40% profit on their book, rather than the usual 10-15% of net or gross. That means for a $20 book, the author can earn $8, instead of about $2. The Writers Union of Canada offers a database of their members, which is a partial list of Canadian writers’ biographies and publications. Invite a writer to your local holiday event or party to do a reading.

you can even buy direct from the publisher, which means more money to the author and publisher combined. Some of my favourite presses are Dundurn, House of Anansi, Inanna, and Arsenal Pulp. Favourite magazine include Broken Pencil and Walrus. There are tons more. What are your favourites?

Finally, if you’d like to support Canadian writers this holiday season, oppose governments that insist on slashing arts funding, and lobby against Prime Ministers who make a show of supporting the arts by coopting artist space and singing out of tune. You know who I’m talking about.

Brockton Writers Series

For some time, I’ve been a proud resident of Brockton Village, in Toronto’s West End. I have a great sense of community here and I love knowing and getting to know my neighbours.

So, when Melanie Janisse, poet, artist and local coffee shop owner, suggested we run a monthly writers series out of her Dundas West Zoots Cafe I got excited at the idea of connecting with my writer-neighbours too.

The Brockton Writers Series highlights the work of people who live within the dozen or so blocks bordered (loosely, because we are pretty flexible about geography) by Lansdowne/Gladstone/College/Queen Streets. Three invited writers of all genres and experience levels–emerging and established– take the stage and we also offer some open mic time for people who want to share something they’re working on. Most of all, we’re interested in creating community for those who love writing and literature.

This past month, our second ever event, poets Sarah Greene and Melanie Janisse, playwright Janice Goveas, and emerging novelist Mo Pigeon, shared their work to a full house. The feeling was cozy and supportive, and the room buzzed with chatter during the breaks. Our microphone wouldn’t work and sometimes the sound of the expresso maker punctuated our words, but that was just fine.  There was a sense that this series is building into something good.

Writers have been excited to get involved. We’re booked for our next three months! Who knew there were so many talented people living in such a small geographic area? Well, we guessed there were lots of us around, and we’re glad this has been confirmed.

So, next month’s line-up includes playwright Rose Cullis, fiction-writer Jasmine D’Costa and poet Aisha Sasha John. All three  are accomplished in their genres and this promises to be a fantastic night.

Join us the first Tuesday of each month, 7-9pm, at Zoots Cafe, 1438 Dundas Street West, Toronto. The event is free, and books, drinks and other treats are available for sale. If you’d like to be part of the open mic, come sign up at 6:50pm. Contact me if you’re a local writer who wants to read at a future event.

To stay in the loop, join our Facebook group. typewriter_jpg