Brockton Writers Series brings diversity to Toronto’s lit community
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
This article originally appeared in XTRA! in February 2011.
What do you get when you put together a two-spirit poet who slams the church, a senior citizen reading bloody stories about nuns and a playwright of colour cussing like a sailor? A night at the Brockton Writers Series.
Curated by Toronto novelist Farzana Doctor, a gay woman who is a secular Muslim, the Brockton Writers Series is held in an unlikely place: St Anne’s Church.
With its domed ceiling, glittery paintings of Jesus, wall-to-wall carpet, hardwood pews and slogans reading “He suffered for you,” St Anne’s Church is the new home for a writers’ night that breaks many commandments.
“My interest from the beginning has been to make a real kind of diversity of writers: established people, emerging people, people of colour, queer people, older people, younger people and so on. Just a real good diversity,” says Doctor.
During a conversation they had while walking their dogs, Doctor and Brockton-area coffee-shop owner Melanie Janisse realized how many writers lived in their neighbourhood.
“We talked about how literary events don’t feel accessible if you don’t know all the right people,” says Doctor.
“We should have a night,” Janisse said.
After running for a year and a half at Janisse’s Zoots Café, a miscommunication last summer saw the series left with no location an hour before the event. Quick thinking and community spirit led to the impromptu venue.
Rob Crosby-Shearer, a regular at the series and director of community formation at the Jeremiah Project, located in St Anne’s, opened the church for Doctor and provided a microphone and refreshments. He asked for nothing in return.
Doctor remembers Crosby-Shearer’s words well: “Welcome. You have a lovely community event. Use our space. We want to be open to the community.”
“Once we were in the space, a number of writers, including Muslim and Jewish writers, said, ‘What a beautiful space. The acoustics are so cool,’” says Doctor.
Realizing that many of the writers might have a problem with the venue being a church, Doctor had some concerns.
“I thought, ‘Is that really a good space?’ Because not everybody is comfortable in a church for lots of reasons,” she says.
So far, all who have attended have embraced the event and the space because of its inclusivity and their trust in Doctor.
“I’ve known Farzana through a few social connections for many years, and I like and trust her politics. Since she’s a queer, Muslim feminist, I know she brings a radical and knowledgeable analysis to this series,” says local writer May Lui.
Happening the first Wednesday of every month, each night starts with a half hour networking session followed by the readings. Scheduled writers read for 15 minutes each, and three “open mic” readers are each given five minutes.
Refreshments are provided by the Jeremiah Project at pay-what-you-can prices. Upcoming themed nights will include an all-queer writers night and a Canadian voices night.
Anywhere from 15 to 40 people attend the event each month, approximately 50 percent of them gay.
“Queerness gets integrated into the event because I look for diversity in voices,” says Doctor. “If we’re not doing that kind of outreach, we don’t get diversity; we get monoculture.”
“The Brockton Series allowed me to be able to showcase my work with seasoned writers and feel that my work has some relevance in the writing world,” says two-spirit poet Nicole Tanguay.
Tune into BlackCoffeePoet.com Wednesday October 12, 2011 for an interview with Farzana Doctor.