Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature! Interview with FOLD Festival Guest Author Jay Pitter

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Jay Pitter

Toronto's reputation as a diverse city is backed up by the numbers: the percentage of foreign-born residents in the GTA is in fact higher than any other metropolitan area. It's a fact that Toronto as a city is proud of, but less often discussed is the fact that socio-economic inequalities are growing in Toronto. The essays in Subdivided: City-Building in an Age of Hyper-Diversity (Coach House Books) address issues of inequality, isolation, and neighbourhood separations. With some of the city's brainiest social thinkers (including Doug Saunders, Shawn Micallef, and Fatima Syed), Subdivided is essential Toronto reading.

Jay Pitter and John Lorinc are the driving forces behind Subdivided, both as editors and contributors (Jay's essay "Designing Dignified Social Housing" is not to be missed).

We're excited to welcome Jay to the site today as part of our celebration of The FOLD: Festival of Literary Diversity, where she will be appearing on May 6, 2016 at the 8:00pm feature event Subdivided: City-Building with a Global Perspective and on May 8, 2016 at the 12:00pm In the News panel.

Jay tells us about her hopes for the next phase of diverse writers claiming space in the canon, what true inclusion means to her and what makes a great literary event.

Open Book:

Tell us about how you become involved with FOLD and what you'll be doing in the festival.

Jay Pitter:

I’m the co-editor of Subdivided, a Coach House Books anthology exploring hyper-diversity and the global city. I was approached by the festival to present a talk alongside of a few of the contributors followed by a Q+A (moderated by my co-editor and award-winning journalist John Lorinc). I’ll also be participating in a panel discussion. It’s an honour to have been invited to be a part of this amazing initiative.


What has your experience of diversity in Canadian literature been, as a writer and reader?


Over the past decades writers considered “other” or “diverse” have made tremendous strides, catapulting beyond the margins. I have great respect for them. In the next phase of claiming space in the literary community, I’d like to see writers tell a wider swath of stories. Far too often, editors, publishers, and audiences, expect writers considered “diverse” to craft narratives focused on their ethno racial identity, despair, or marginalization. I’m not suggesting that these narratives are not important, but I’m suggesting that true inclusion, true humanity for that matter, is embracing and communicating the full range of human experience — without restriction or playing down to dominant narratives pertaining to victimhood based on external stereotypes or narrow opportunities.

Open Book:

What makes a great literary event, in your opinion? Do you have any advice about readings and events for emerging writers?


Overall, I think that great events are defined by two-way learning and meaningful participation. This also applies to literary events. Instead of strictly presenting or “telling”, space should be made for co-creating and conversing. Jael Richardson, Artistic Director, of FOLD has really modelled this approach in exciting ways.

Open Book:

Tell us about a favourite book you've read that you feel is an example of the diverse literature FOLD is bringing attention to.


To select a single book that exemplifies “diverse literature” would be impossible. What I will say is that Canadian authors are outstanding and we’re collectively crafting a really nuanced, future-focused narrative — one worthy of reading. The FOLD festival is creating a platform for this kind of literary excellence.


What is up next for you?


I’m going to keep wrestling with words and creating conversations about issues I deeply care about.

Jay Pitter established a career as a public funder and then a communications and public engagement director before earning a graduate degree at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. Her passion for inclusive city-building led her to research site-specific narrative, environmental design, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) and urban place-making. Throughout her career, Jay has spearheaded noteworthy projects with organizations such as the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Toronto Police Service, the City of Toronto, the Toronto District School Board and DIALOG, a national architecture firm. Her work has increased knowledge transfer, revenue, profile and partnerships through the co-creation of inclusive, safe and vibrant places. She has been a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto, York University, Centennial College and Seneca College, and was recently a faculty member at the University of Guelph-Humber. Jay has also written for Spacing, CBC Radio, The Walrus and the Toronto Star.

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