Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Diaspora Dialogues, with Shawn Micallef

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 The Diaspora Dialogues, with Shawn Micallef

Maybe you've scavenged through a used book store in search of a favourite author, but at this year's The Word On The Street festival, you'll have the opportunity to be a literary scavenger—literally!

This Sunday, Sept. 26, The Diaspora Dialogues is hosting a literary scavenger hunt from one end of Queen's Park to the other. Stop by for a Sunday afternoon chase of literary clues, lines of poetry, personalized readings and other literary oddities. And of course, there are prizes! Intrigued? Visit the website for details.

In the meantime, Shawn Micallef, author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto (Coach House Books, 2010) and one of the writers you'll find at the event, talks to Open Book about his own experience as a literary scavenger and his technique of "walk-researching."

Open Book:

How does your writing take part in the "Diaspora Dialogue" of Toronto's diverse literary culture?

Shawn Micallef:

I think of Diaspora as a flexible word, and it means being a part of communities that are attached to other things. As a writer, I find it gives me great perspective on Toronto (and everything else). When I moved up to Toronto from Windsor, I immediately fell into what I sometimes call the "Windsor Diaspora" of Toronto (this city has people from all over Canada—so on top of being multicultural, it's pan-Canadian, something oft overlooked). Not being from Toronto affords a certain perspective on—and appreciation of—Toronto that I might not have as had if I was from here. I relate much of what I see to what I knew first: Windsor. It's a good base to have, and though ten years of living here makes me an insider, it's sometimes good to still feel like an outsider.

Otherwise, in my writing and in my book Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, I try as much as I can to talk about a Toronto that doesn't get written about enough. These are the stories, themes and currents that run underneath whatever official narrative the city has. Downtown, suburbs—trying to find the things that tie this place together, especially during this election year when much of what we see is trying to actively divide Torontonians.


Can you think of a piece of writing you've done in which you've acted as a scavenger?


Much of my writing on Toronto is scavenger-like. If I'm out walk-researching a neighbourhood, I'll look for the details that can be easily overlooked—old signs, vestigial logos and scraps of information that can be found by looking in the alleys behind places. If I'm in the archives I'll look for a quote or bit of history that might make us think differently about a place—things that could make a place we don't think has history suddenly seem very deep. The archives—either the City ones up on Spadina or the files and books on the fourth floor of the Toronto Reference Library—are a most magnificent place for scavenging. That's often how it happens—you find things by chance, where you might not have thought to look.


I love your idea of "walk-researching." If you could travel to any place with the purpose of writing about it, where would it be and why?


I'm split between London and Los Angeles. In Stroll I write about how Toronto has been, since it's founding, a colonial city with so many references back to the UK (and Ireland), but especially London. Though I argue that its been trying to get out of London's shadow since then, I'm terribly in love with that city, nearly as much as I am with Toronto. Colonial fondness, certainly, but unlike a lot of European capitals whose mythologies were defined ages ago so that they've subsequently become urban museums, London is thrilling and alive and deep. Day or night explorations are never without radically new and wonderful discoveries.

Los Angeles is sort of similar, as a cultural engine that defines so much of what surrounds us. When I was there the first (and only) time I had an odd sense of déjà vu, as if I knew this territory and geography. So many aerial freeway chases—white Bronco included—for the last twenty years (L.A. TV stations were some of the first to get helicopters) coupled with so many things filmed there and references made about it by writers and whoever, made the streets and buildings seem familiar. Yet it's a wild cultural landscape—America at zenith—with deep liberal social capital, as if anything can happen. It's compelling. I can understand why one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, made it one of her subjects.


What do you most enjoy about being a writer in Toronto?


Right now Toronto is about as exciting as any city has ever been. It's been changing so rapidly, new buildings are going up, there are thriving music and art scenes and people are moving here constantly. The Toronto of five, ten or twenty years from now will not look like the one today. That's really exciting. There is always something new, some new collision of things, to poke around in.


Tell us about your new book, Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, released this fall with Coach House Books.


Stroll is 32 walks through Toronto. They aren't didactic, "turn right at this corner," but rather essays exploring a fuzzy meandering path through a part of town, from downtown to the edges of suburbia. I talk about what's there, slip in archival bits, things I've overheard and reportage I've done, and mostly how these parts of town feel. I look at them as only starting points, and hope readers will got take their own walk after reading and add their own discoveries and thoughts to whatever I wrote. I started walking here ten years ago, so Stroll is the culmination of a decade-long walk through the city.

Shawn Micallef is the author of the new book Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, published by Coach House Books. He's also a senior editor at Spacing magazine; a co-founder of [murmur], the location-based mobile-phone documentary project; managing editor of Yonge Street and a columnist for Eye Weekly. He writes about cities, culture, buildings, art and politics for a variety of media outlets, and he is also an instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Buy his book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

And don't forget to head to Queen's Park anytime between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 26th for The Word On The Street's Diaspora Dialogues Literary Scavenger Hunt!

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