Audience matters

The M&S family at The FOLD! 

A couple of weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of taking part in the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD). It's difficult to believe The FOLD is only in its third year. It is hands down the very best literary festival I have ever attended. I am talking NEXT LEVEL FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC. The authors were top shelf. The moderators were incredible. The conversations were smart and hilarious and memorable. The programming was creative and playful. One panel was focused on dystopian stories. Another on anthologies. The show stopper for me was the non-fiction panel featuring Tanya Talaga and Robyn Maynard. When Tanya Talaga said "Rights before reconciliation. Basic rights. Then we can talk about hugs" the packed house was ready to yell AMEN.

I was in awe of the whole festival but it was the audiences that really caught my attention. Because here's the thing: at readings and festivals I consistently see the same faces in the crowd. They are...well, homogenous. Upper middle class, older, white. I appreciate those audiences and those book lovers. They are engaged and careful readers who ask thoughtful questions. But I suspect they represent only a fraction of our readers. Because I see lots of other faces at book shops, reading in airports, on bookstagram. I have banned myself from GoodReads but I suspect the median age over there is quite a bit younger than 60. So as a writer at the start of my career, I look at audiences and I can't help but wonder: is this model sustainable?

The FOLD has cracked the code. The place was on wheels! Standing room only for a couple of events and full of lots of different faces. Older folks. Younger people. Transpeople. Black people. White people. Brown people. Guess what? This is who loves books. All. Of. The. People. High five to The Fold for attracting new audiences, for building something that is new and fresh, and accessible in every possible way. This festival is only in its third year and it has a bright future ahead.

Photo of the After Canada Reads panel from The Fold's Instagram (@the_fold)

Along with Cherie and Omar and moderator Ali, I was part of the After Canada Reads panel that closed out the festival. (You can listen to it here) After two days of being in the audience at other events, I have to admit that I was feeling a little intimidated. The conversations on stage at The Fold set the bar sky high and I've always been pants at the high jump. Fortunately, Cherie and Omar are pros and I let them do all the heavy lifting. The hour went by in a flash and I remember none of it.

CanLit folks: if you are in the GTA you must get yourself to Brampton next year for The FOLD. Authors: speak to your publicists, send flowers to the festival organizers, light candles at mass, sacrifice some doves, do what you need to do to finagle an invite. You won't be sorry.