It actually feels like spring here in Toronto—for once I’m not shivering through my visit, though I am wearing a hoodie I borrowed from my cousin. She’s out having Easter dinner with her in-laws so I thought I’d take a moment to blog. I’ve got way too much sugar in my system; in addition to Easter chocolate we’ve been snacking on English toffee and vintage candy from our youth, and yesterday I had the ultimate butter tart (no raisins!) at a cafe where I met African Canadian author Kelbian Noel. I’ll be posting an interview with Kelbian tomorrow to coincide with the release date of her second speculative YA novel, Sprung. Despite my sugar consumption, right now I’m feeling bitter and here’s why: Kelbian and I spent most of our time together bemoaning the difficulty of getting published while black in Canada. We also tried to develop some strategies for breaking through the color barrier, and one idea was to propose a panel to the coordinators of an established literary event. There’s an annual book festival in Toronto called Word on the Street and these are the stats they proudly share in their brochure.
- 65% Female, 34% Male
- 63% of our visitors have an annual household income of $50,000 and greater
- 28.3% of our visitors have an annual household income of $100,000 and greater
- Our visitors come from a range of age demographics (total number of visitors 215,000):
Under 17 – 18% of visitors
18-24 years – 14% of visitors
25-34 years – 20% of visitors
35-44 years – 16% of visitors
45-54 years – 13% of visitors
55+ years – 20% of visitors
- 72% of our visitors have completed college/university
- 33% of our visitors have completed postgraduate studies (This is up from 30.9% in 2011)
- 73% of our visitors are from Metropolitan Toronto
- 27% of our visitors are tourists from outside the GTA
- 80% of our visitors describe themselves as avid readers
- 85% of our visitors consider The Word On The Street a key cultural event
Now, close your eyes and imagine what this book festival looks like. A third of the visitors are middle-aged; the vast majority of visitors are college-educated and a third have advanced degrees; nearly two-thirds are middle class and one third of their visitors make more than a hundred grand a year. Kids account for a fifth of the visitors, but if they’re brought by these highly educated, wealthy adults, chances are they aren’t struggling with literacy. In case you don’t know the city of Toronto, let me share some other stats:
Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities. In 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Toronto second, behind Miami, Florida, in its list of the world’s cities with the largest percentage of foreign-born population. Miami’s foreign-born population is dominated by those of Cuban and Latin American descent, unlike Toronto’s foreign-born population, which is not dominated by any particular ethnic group.
The 2006 census indicates 46.9% of Toronto’s population is composed of visible minorities; 1,162,630 non-Whites, or 23% of Canada’s visible minority population, live in Toronto; of this, approximately 70% are of Asian ancestry. Annually, almost half of all immigrants to Canada settle in the Greater Toronto Area. In March 2005, Statistics Canada projected that the combined visible minority proportion will comprise a majority in both Toronto and Vancouver by 2012.
- 2006: 46.9% (South Asian: 12.0%, Chinese: 11.4%, Black 8.4%, Filipino 4.1%, Arab/West Asian: 2.6%, Latin American 2.6%, Southeast Asian 1.5%, Korean 1.4%, multiple 1.3%, not included elsewhere 1.0%, Japanese 0.5%)
Poverty is also on the rise in Toronto, with almost 25% of the population living hand to mouth:
Toronto’s poverty rates are higher than the provincial and national average. Overall, recent immigrants fare the worse with nearly half (46 per cent) in poverty. One in three children (under age 15) is living in poverty and 31 per cent of youths (15 to 24). Housing costs is the big driver, with almost 47 per cent of all tenants paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Another 23 per cent pay an astonishing 50 per cent or more on rent.
So. Let’s revisit the stats for Word on the Street. I’ve never attended or presented at this event, but feedback from attendees seems overwhelmingly positive. Yet does this literary event accurately reflect the 21st-century city of Toronto? Are they actually achieving their objectives if their attendees represent such a small (and privileged) slice of the population? Do you think their featured authors reflect and/or are likely to appeal to people of color (who make up 50% of the city’s population)?
The Word On The Street Toronto is a non-profit organization that celebrates Canadian reading and writing, and champions literacy, primarily through a free, annual outdoor festival.
- To ensure that the people of Toronto know about the annual festival, and value it as having the best and broadest offerings within the Canadian publishing industry.
- To ensure that The Word On The Street helps Toronto become 100% literate through its effective support for literacy awareness and programs.
- To ensure that The Word On The Street Toronto is a valuable and vital event for the Canadian publishing industry and a top choice for Canadian authors, publishers and booksellers.
Right now I’m thinking it’s not worth my time to approach the organizers of this event. I may send them an email, however, and hip them to Pop Up—a nonprofit in the UK that brings literature to communities that are too often ignored by big splashy book festivals…