Q&Q spoke to Robinson about Canadian urban fiction and what she hopes to achieve with this year’s event.
How do you define urban fiction? I would define it as in the city, but with a cultural focus. I’m coming from a Caribbean-Canadian background, so my experience is how I define it. Urban fiction in the U.S. is more underground, gritty, and seedy. I hope in Canada it can be less so, and be more diverse and represent more experiences in the city.
Why did you start the Toronto Urban Book Expo? I started the festival based on inspiration I got when travelling in the U.S. I went to the National Black Book Festival in Houston with 150 writers. Everyone was writing the same type of literature – a lot of urban and culturally specific fiction. I had done Word on the Street in Toronto but I’d never seen anything where one specific genre of literature was celebrated. A lot of self-published writers were given the chance to present without spending money on a book expo or bigger festival.
I wanted to create a safe, culturally familiar space for like-minded writers to come together to share with an audience that would be supportive of their efforts, despite where they were in a publishing sense. I wanted it to be urban and not racially specific, and to be supportive from the ground up.
Who attends and exhibits, and what are you hoping to achieve? The exhibitors are local writers who are self-published or with small publishing houses trying to make a name for themselves and get exposure. The attendees are people in the writing community trying to get their own projects started or who are there to support us. We’re trying to get the word out with the immediate circle and have it spread.
Last year was pretty small – maybe about 80 people. This year I’m getting a little more feedback and am hoping to see 100 to 150 come out. The library has also been supportive in its promotion and marketing.
Is the traditional Canadian publishing industry not addressing certain audiences? I think audiences are being addressed, but if they were in a more frequent manner, it would be easier for the community to grow and feel encouraged. Black writers specifically feel like they aren’t being heard in the bigger Canadian publishing picture. There are people we look up to, but there is a new generation of writers that isn’t as established as other black Canadian writers. It’s not that we’re not being addressed, but maybe not to the extent we should be.
This interview has been edited and condensed.