Books

Writers' Trust of Canada launches program to support books by BIPOC writers launched during pandemic

Marty Chan, Norma Dunning and Jael Richardson are among the authors selected for the new WT Amplified Voices initiative.

Marty Chan, Norma Dunning and Jael Richardson among authors selected for WT Amplified Voices initiative

From left to right: children's writer Marty Chan, short story writer Norma Dunning and novelist Jael Richardson. (martychan.com, Emily Weisz Studios, Simon Remark)

The Writers' Trust of Canada has selected 25 books to participate in a new program, WT Amplified Voices, which aims to promote books by BIPOC writers released during the pandemic.

"The goal is to provide these authors with added opportunities to have their work discovered," said the Writers' Trust of Canada, an organization that supports the Canadian literary community with prizes and mentorship programs, in a press release.

One of the chosen books is the middle-grade novel Haunted Hospital by Edmonton writer Marty Chan. The children's book follows a group of ghost-busting teens who get trapped in an abandoned hospital by otherworldly spirits.

Chan was preparing to promote Haunted Hospital in early 2020, just before the pandemic started to spread across Canada. He had a slate of school visits scheduled that were immediately cancelled.

"Obviously [the book] hit at the worst time," said Chan in an interview with CBC Books.

"It was like, 'Hey, I've got this book — oh, I can't go into schools and do presentations. But it's about a hospital, isn't that scary?! Oh, wait. Oh, dear."

The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on in-person literary festivals, bookstore events and classroom visits, making it harder for writers to get their work in front of readers.

The Writers' Trust said the Amplified Voices initiative will focus on digital events, including live-streamed author interviews and social media takeovers. Chan said the program provides funding to the writers to expand their online presence, as well as access to the Writers' Trust's digital resources.

"I'm really excited [about WT Amplified Voices] because obviously living with the pandemic for the last two years and trying to promote a book has been incredibly challenging," said Chan.

"Oftentimes, what gets the kids the most excited about reading is when they meet the author who's written those books and they talk about the story behind the story."

Chan has published dozens of books for YA and middle-grade writers and is well-versed in the hustle of book promotion. He referred to his pre-pandemic self as a "luddite" when it came to technology, but now he's put together a digital presentation, filled with graphics and video, so he can make virtual classroom visits more dynamic.

The 25 chosen books come from 21 publishers and represent a range of writers and genres across the country, including poetry collections like nedi nezu (Good Medicine), a funny and blunt take on Indigenous romance and sexuality by Saskatoon's Tenille K. Campbell, sulphurtongue by Fredericton's Rebecca Salazar and the comedic late-coming-of-age book Small, Broke and Kind of Dirty by Toronto's Hana Shafi.

There's also a slate of debut fiction on the list, from the dystopian novel Gutter Child from Jael Richardson to the romantic comedy Made in Korea by Sarah Suk, as well as nonfiction like Unreconciled by Jesse Wente and picture books such as My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee, illustrated by Elaine Chen.

The books were chosen by a five-person committee: Allan Cho, editor of Ricepaper Magazine and director of the LiterASIAN festival; Jessica Johns, the 2020 Journey Prize winner; Ardo Omer, the kids coordinator at the Festival of Literary Diversity; Trina Roache, a Mi'kmaw journalist; and Bianca Spence, a consultant for book publishing at Ontario Creates.

Chan said the initiative is "one small step forward" when it comes to making Canadian literature a more equitable place for BIPOC writers.

"I think it's great in the sense that it does focus on a group of authors who probably have been ignored before," said Chan.

The program will run from December until March 2022, starting off with a conversation with Norma Dunning, who won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction for Tainna: The Unseen Ones.

The full list of 25 books are:

The Writers' Trust of Canada was founded in 1976 by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence and David Young. 

The organization gave out more than $970,000 to support Canadian writers in 2020.

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