As I mentioned in my last post, I believe it my duty as a spy to experience as many facets of TNQ as possible—and through TNQ, to become part of the wider CanLit community. Even though I’ve only been working here for two months (and how the time has flown!) I’ve had many opportunities to attend literary gatherings that I’ve discovered through the various social media channels I monitor. (Although I must ask: why, Toronto publishers and authors, must you always hold events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? My spying opportunities are greatly reduced…)
This past Sunday, I had the chance to attend a fascinating reading and panel discussion in honor of International Women’s Day organized by Room magazine. During the break between the reading and the discussion, while other people socialized, my boyfriend (who, through me, is slowly being incorporated into the worlds of literature and feminism…poor boy) and I debated whether or not the wine we’d been given had alcohol in it (I was right; it did) and stared at the rest of the crowd, trying to figure out how they were connected. Do those two people, leaning into each other so intently, know each other? Does that man, holding an issue of Room, know the woman he is seated beside?
Most importantly, we wondered: are we the only people here who don’t know anyone?
This isn’t the only time I’ve felt this way at a reading. As a newcomer to the CanLit scene, I frequently feel as though there is some secret literary community to which I (despite my spy abilities) have not been initiated…and I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this way. Reading, and writing too, are solitary pursuits; those of us who are fascinated by the literary arts thus often seem to be unsociable, preferring the company of books to that of people. Working at TNQ has, in fact, made me less shy; I can hide behind the veil of my job and speak professionally, pretending to actually know what I’m talking about rather than introducing myself simply as an interested reader, a more intimidating prospect. What am I supposed to talk about? How do I learn what to say? Do I simply have to keep spying on these events until I learn the lingo? Pretending to be a spy might be a disadvantage here: I feel as though I should remain in the background, unobserved.
These questions beget another, more important: what can we, as literary supporters (if you’re on TNQ’s website, reading this blog post, you most definitely fall into this category) do to increase the openness of events? Is it possible to make attending literary events such as readings and panels more accessible, both to the shy and to the general public who are still learning how to discuss authors and their works, if not with aplomb than at least with enthusiastic interest?
Despite my initial reluctance to attend events, however, my experience has been very positive. The speakers I have heard and the overall experience has always been stellar—particularly when free wine is provided—and I will most certainly continue to attend such events in the future.
However, as a shy literature novice, I also believe that CanLit could be a more welcoming community for the inexperienced, and that in order to maintain growth in interest and readership, it’s important to be approachable. To me, this also plays into the idea of diversity: in order to foster a variety of voices within CanLit, the community must be open, welcoming and willing to translate its secret language for anyone who’s interested. In fact, the event I attended on Sunday was an example of this: it combined both feminism in the arts as well as a reading, allowing those who knew about or were interested in one subject or the other to be slowly included into the discussion of the other.
Could I make more of an effort to socialize? Definitely, and when I attend my next event, I will be. I’ll also try to be more welcoming myself, by which I mean talking to everyone I know about TNQ and CanLit until they’re willing to come to an event with me. Will this be a slow process? Definitely, as most changes are…but CanLit and I are in it for the long haul, and I look forward to seeing us change together.