Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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Jo, the main character in Something Wiki, uses Wikipedia as her diary to cope with change during the worst year of her life. Each chapter of the book opens with a Wikipedia entry that Jo has made her mark on: everything from acne vulgaris to Ulen Township, Clay County, Minnesota. Jo gleefully ignores the editorial rules of Wikipedia and makes a space for her own stories (even if they are swiftly deleted), and it helps see her through her family’s sea change.

And, while the idea of incorporating Wikipedia entries into the novel came to me without any warning or reason, I found that the importance of including those sections became clearer to me the more I wrote. Accidental or quirky as the Wikipedia edits seemed, they were, in some small way, political. Jo was allowing for her voice to be heard in a heavy governed online forum dominated by male voices. Sure, she was unsteady on her feet (as lots of 12-year-olds are), but in some small way she was demanding to be noticed and accounted for.

According to a Wikipedia Editors Survey conducted in 2011, less than 13% of Wikipedia editors are women, and, along with that statistic comes the knowledge that many women artists, writers and thinkers have been unrepresented or underdocumented from The Free Encyclopedia since its launch in 2001.

Enter: Art+Feminism. Art+Feminism is a campaign to improve coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia, and to encourage female editorship. Through their leadership, Wikipedia Edit-a-thons (where participants learn the necessary tools to create meaningful Wikipedia articles and boost the representation of women both within the encyclopedia and behind the scenes), have been hosted around the world. They’ve drawn attention to this important informational imbalance and helped empower people to create change.

Because it matters if 87% of Wikipedia’s editors are men. Of course it does. It means that there is a fundamental disproportion of power over whose voices are heard, whose are ignored, and whose lives and achievements can be all but forgotten. The wonder of Wikipedia is that (in theory, at least) it stands as a perfectly democratic exercise of, and monument to, the world’s knowledge base. Why wouldn’t we do everything we can to keep it that way?

Coinciding with International Women’s Day, this Sunday, March 8th marks Toronto’s own Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the Art Gallery of Ontario. No prior knowledge is necessary to take part, and a list of Canadian women artists who have been underrepresented in The Free Encyclopedia are already listed - where else? - on Toronto’s Wikipedia Meetup page.

If you’re not in town, there are meetups happening across the country this weekend, from Vancouver to Halifax, as well as Edit-a-thons being organized online.

Trust me, Jo would be there if she could.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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