Five must-sees at Brampton’s Festival of Literary Diversity

The FOLD founder Jael Richardson, centre, with writers Kim Thuy, Catherine Hernandez, Kai Chen Thom and Carrieanne Leung at the 2018 festival. In-person events like this are back for the first time since 2019 and some of these writers are making repeat appearances.

Brampton has become the centre for one of the most interesting literary festivals around. With its mandate to devote itself to under-represented authors and storytellers, it’s helped bring writers who are now familiar faces to a broader audience. The Festival of Literary Diversity, which has been held virtually since 2020, is back with in-person events at the Brampton’s Rose Theatre. We asked Jael Richardson, who founded FOLD in 2016, to pick her top five must-sees, surely an unfair question. Here’s what she chose.

1. The Great Readception: A Literary Cabaret

This is FOLD’s first in-person event in three years. Six authors — Kamal Al-Solaylee, Omar Mouallem, Tsering Yangzom Lama, Kern Carter, Sonya Singh and Sydney Hegele — will read from their books, accompanied by improvisational jazz musicians. The musicians will play while the authors are reading, but Richardson explained, “They’ll raise the level of the music and the cadence of the music based on what the author is reading.” Different instruments based on different cultures might be represented in various pieces. “This is something I actually saw at the Vancouver Writers Festival in the fall … I liked it and wanted to do it here.” (May 6, 7:30 p.m.)

2. Wrapping Up With André Alexis

There’s a bit of a play on words here — we shouldn’t expect any less from a literary festival. As the final event of the festival — another of the in-person offerings — Richardson interviews author André Alexis about his book “Ring.” It’s the final work in his famed Quincunx Cycle (which included the Giller Prize-winning “Fifteen Dogs”) — but with it coming out during the pandemic, Richardson said, Alexis hasn’t done a lot of in-person interviews. The two will talk about the ambitious undertaking and how it feels now that it’s come to and end. There’ll be a multimedia aspect, too, with audiobook samples of each of the five books played during the event. That’s a wrap. (May 7, 8 p.m.)

3. Re-Thinking Healthcare

Given the pandemic and the health-care crises we’ve witnessed first-hand, this promises to be a particularly prescient conversation. This is a virtual event, which improves the accessibility, particularly for those who can’t attend because of disability or who just aren’t comfortable being in a public space yet. In a conversation moderated by Kai Cheng Thom, three authors — Shayda Kafai, author of “Crip Kinship,” Anna Quon (“Where the Silver River Ends”) and Zena Sharman (“The Care We Dream Of”) — will examine unique approaches to care. “I think it’s going to be a very important conversation on how our health-care system is working and not working,” said Richardson. (May 1, 8 p.m.)

4. Enjoy the virtual

In 2020, the FOLD was one of the first festivals to pivot to virtual events. This year, the festival is creating a hybrid of sorts, but don’t expect it to simply put the live festival onscreen. “We really want to create (separate) virtual events because they are a different experience and they do have benefits that outweigh, in some instances, in person,” Richardson said. Those include the aforementioned accessibility, but also the broader reach for the festival: anyone can attend no matter where they are and it costs less than being there in person. What’s missing, Richardson said, is where “there’s no opportunity to connect, it’s just a presentation of content.” To combat that, they’ve been looking at ways to allow the authors to interact with each other and the audience. They’ll be doing the opening event in meeting mode for the first time, so participants will be able to see everyone in the audience and engage with each other using the chat function. (May 1, 11 a.m.)

5. Bringing young adults into the FOLD

Six young adult events are aimed at high school students, open to anybody but being held during the day and for slightly shorter times. Richardson feels these events are important because “a lot of people are feeling a lot of things coming out of COVID, and I think young people in particular may not have the words or language to really even understand what they’re going through. One event in particular, “Grappling With Grief and Mental Health in Young Adult Fiction,” with authors Kern Carter, Abdi Nazemian and Mary-Lou Zeitoun, moderated by Alyssa Gray-Tyghter, is one Richardson hopes will spark conversations. (May 5, 10 a.m.)

The FOLD runs virtually and in-person in Brampton from May 1 to 7. See for the full lineup.

Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas


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