Farzana Doctor’s first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and was nominated for Masala!Mehndi!Masti! People’s Choice Award.
In June 2011, Doctor published her second novel Six Metres of Pavement to national acclaim and she received the Dayne Ogilvie Grant for emerging gay or lesbian writers.
Doctor has also written on social work and diversity-related topics, and in her spare time she provides private practice consulting and psychotherapy services.
She lives in Toronto.
BCP: It’s been two years since you started the Brockton Writers Series! Congrats! How does it feel?
FA: It feels amazing! I love how it’s evolved over time. I didn’t really expect it to last this long. When we first started, we thought it was going to be a one-time event, not a series.
BCP: BWS started in a café and now runs out of a church. Is it a hard sell for writers to come and read there?
FA: Not at all. I do a little outreach, but writers mostly contact me for a spot. We’re booked up until July 2012. Some writers feel tentative at first about swearing or reading sexually explicit work in the church (we all carry baggage about what is and isn’t allowed within religious spaces). But we reassure them that the church is a progressive space that welcomes us with open arms. The fantastic thing about doing a literary series in a church is that the acoustics are fabulous. The audience listens very carefully. There’s no espresso machine or streetcar noise interrupting the readings.
BCP: You’re a queer Muslim woman who runs a reading series out of a Christian church. BWS could possibly be the most spiritual reading series in North America! Muslims and Christians working together via literature. Amazing! What are your thoughts?
FA: Except for the setting, spirituality and religion doesn’t really come into play. The Jeremiah Community at St. Anne’s is really interested in having community members share their space. When I chat with them about the series, it’s a secular conversation.
BCP: Explain the name Brockton Writers Series.
FA: The neighbourhood is called Brockton Village. When we first started, Melanie Janisse (the first co-curator, and the owner of Zoots, the café we used to work out of) and I wanted to organize something for and with the local community.
BCP: Why a reading series?
FA: Melanie and I are both writers. Although there are many reading series in the city, we felt like we needed something local, to showcase local writers. We also wanted a friendly space where neighbours could come and congregate.
BCP: How has the first year differed from the second?
FA: We shifted the focus from local writers to all writers who wanted to participate. We focus on getting a diverse range in terms of experience, genre, and identities. In Year 2, we’ve also added the writers’ networking session, a half-hour pre-reading discussion where writers can chat with one another. Sometimes we bring in guest speakers.
BCP: What are your plans for year 3?
FA: I’m hoping to apply for some funding in March so that we can pay the writers better. Right now, we collect a PWYC entrance fee (suggested $3-5) and we give the proceeds to the writers. We’re also thinking about whether the series should be monthly or six times a year—we haven’t come to a consensus on that one. We’d like to boost the audience size as well.
BCP: You have three volunteers helping out with BWS. How crucial are volunteers? Are you looking for more volunteers?
Farzana Doctor and Brockton Writers Series volunteers Suzanne Sutherland, Sharanpal Ruprai, May Lui at BWS 2 Year Anniversary!
FA: I think we can offer a better event when more people are involved its creation. It also helps to share the workload. We’re always looking for more people to help out! Sharanpal Ruprai is a poet who helps to curate and host. May Lui writes poetry, prose and non-fiction and facilitates the writers’ networking time. Suzanne Sutherland is a prose-writer helps with set-up and selling books.
BCP: How is BWS different from other reading series in Toronto?
FA: You know, I’m not completely sure, because there are many good literary events in the city. I think we’re probably more diverse, because we’re intentional about that–people have definitely commented on that. We also attract neighbours who don’t attend other literary events but like coming to a community event.
BCP: What do you try to bring to the audience?
FA: Excellent and inspiring writing from established and emerging writers.
BCP: You’ve had some queer specific events. Will there be other themed nights at BWS?
FA: Yes, we’re planning a special showcase of writers from The Writers Union of Canada in April (I’m a TWUC member) and we’ll do another queer-specific event in June.
BCP: You are a writer with two novels to your name. Has being a writer helped with running BWS? Has running BWS helped with your writing?
FA: As a writer, I have a wide writer network, which helps with attracting writers. After each BWS, I feel more inspired to write, which is a great gift. I think organizing BWS has also helped me to be better known as a writer.
BCP: Do you get any funding? If not, will you start applying for funding?
FA: Yes, as I mentioned above, my plan for Year 3 is to get us some funding so that we can pay the writers what they deserve.
BCP: Why should Toronto’s lit community come out to BWS?
Writers Ann Shin, Farzana Doctor, Patrick Connors, Aisha Sasha John at Brockton Writers Series 2 Year bash!
FA: Firstly, they’ll hear talented writers! Besides that, BWS offers a warm, inclusive space for mingling. The Q&A offers an opportunity to better understand the writers’ work and process. We bring in guest speakers to talk about grant writing, professional organizations, writing programs, and publishing during the networking time. There have been a number of supportive alliances that have been built, including this one!
BCP: What advice for other people wanting to start their own reading series?
FA: I’m not sure that I have much good advice. I sort of “slid into” the role of organizer and BWS has continued ever since. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve BWS in terms of increasing audience size, figuring out scheduling and finding more ways to support the featured writers. I guess we’ll continue doing it until it no longer feels like a good thing to do.
Tune into BlackCoffeePoet.com Friday October 14, 2011 for a video of Black Coffee Poet reading at the Brockton Writers Series.
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