Raising the Curtain on Cultural Diversity: Integrating Inclusion into the Arts

Cities of Migration’s Good Ideas webinar series tackles inclusion through the arts

Our very own Julia Chan will join Cities of Migration for a 60-minute webinar to learn about successful strategies for community engagement, creative mentoring, and promoting immigrant integration through the arts. Presenters from Auckland and Julia will share innovative ideas about how music, performance and new literary voices are building stronger communities through the arts and changing the way we see ourselves in the city.

The webinar will take place:

July 19 in North America
4:00 pm PDT in Vancouver, Los Angeles
7:00 pm EDT in Toronto, New York

July 20 in New Zealand and Australia
7:00 am SGT in Singapore
9:00 am EST in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane
11:00 am NZST in Auckland

Register at the Cities of Migration website here!


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Emerging Writer: “I’m having my fair share of pre-reading jitters”

Have you ever thought what it must be like for a writer to read their work for the first time in front of an audience? Well, two of our emerging writers will be doing just that this coming Thursday, May 19th.

Emerging writers Alicia Elliott and Lynda Allison will read with established writers David Layton and Martin Mordecai from their Toronto-set work in the Diaspora Dialogues anthology TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 6 at Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street at 6 p.m. Antanas Sileika will be the host at the event.

We asked them to share their thoughts about how they feel ahead of the event. 

Alicia Elliott

Having a slightly high-pitched voice and generally nervous, awkward demeanor, I’m worried about how my reading will be received. Will people listen? Will they look at their watches the whole time I read? Will they make snide remarks behind their hands? Or, worse still, will I be reading to an empty room?

If it isn’t yet abundantly clear, this is my first reading, so I’m having my fair share of pre-reading jitters. To prepare I’ve been reading my piece in the shower in different voices. My Christopher Walken is coming along nicely, while my Sarah Palin could use some intense work. This may seem like tomfoolery, but it is one of the reasons I love writing so much. I don’t mean to say I enjoy writing in hopes I can read my pieces in terrible celebrity impersonations; I mean to say I enjoy writing because it gives me the opportunity to tap into so many different voices and experiences.

The piece I’ll be reading from, “Heels,” started as an examination of racial stereotypes and the way they can be enacted and perpetuated by people in complex ways. Under the careful guidance of my mentor, David Layton, I added more weight in the character of Stephanie’s mother, Dina. Dina is dealing with bipolar disorder, while Stephanie is dealing with Dina. The way mental illness cycles through families, and the fear of this cycle continuing, for me, was thematically linked to my original idea.

So to sum up, I’m really looking forward to stuttering my way through all of this at Ben McNally Books this coming Thursday. It’ll be a lot of good, awkward fun.

Alicia Elliott
is a recent graduate of York University’s creative writing program and is senior fiction editor of Existere Journal of Arts and Literature. She was one of the first winners of the Dominion Institute’s Aboriginal Writing Challenge, and her winning story was published in Initiations: A Selection of Young Native Writing. When she is not reading or writing, Alicia spends time with her fantastic daughter, Eva, and amazing partner, Mike in Toronto, Brantford or Six Nations.


Lynda Allison

Diaspora Dialogues’ mentoring program has been a great learning experience for me. Being a part of it has encouraged me to not only re-write and submit my story, “Switch,” to TOK 6, but also to keep writing.

I wrote “Switch” out of a desire to share the story of a young girl who finds herself pregnant and living on the streets of Toronto. If Kari were a real person, I would want to meet her and become her friend. I am surprised to have this opportunity to read a portion of her story and share a glimpse into her life.

My mind is also muddled with children’s tales and a partially written young adult fantasy trilogy. In pockets of time and energy I spill words onto the page and play around with them hoping to arrange them into well told stories that young people will find meaningful.

Lynda Allison teaches high school, facilitates writing workshops and drama camps, and coordinates teams that support at risk children and youth and their families. She writes to explore and share life from various points of view and is inspired by the resiliency and courage of people who thrive despite incredible and sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges. Lynda hopes her stories resonate with readers in such a way that their issues and conflicts help them discover their inherent value and potential empowering them to effect positive change in their lives and the lives of other people.


Don’t forget to drop in and support Toronto’s best and brightest writers! We here at Diaspora Dialogues and these writers would love to see you there.

WHAT: Readings from TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 6
WHEN: Thursday May 19, 6:00-7:00 PM
WHERE: Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street
COST: Free

David Layton has had short fiction and articles published and anthologized in various literary journals, newspapers and magazines including: Penguin, Exile, the Daily Telegraph, Conde Nast and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Motion Sickness, a memoir that was shortlisted for the Trillium Award. His critically acclaimed second book, The Bird Factory, was published by McClelland and Stewart and film rights for the novel were sold to Marty Katz, executive producer of Hotel Rwanda. David Layton’s third book, Bloodlines, will be published by HarperCollins in the spring of 2012.

Martin Mordecai, a late bloomer, published his first book, Culture and Customs of Jamaica, a reference work written with his wife, Pamela Mordecai, at the age of fifty-nine. His first novel, Blue Mountain Trouble, was published simultaneously in the United States and Canada when he was sixty-seven. Before writing, he had worked as a civil servant, a media practitioner and a very small business person. Since writing, he has been grandfather to Zoey Rita, which is less tiring and more fun.

Antanas Sileika is the author of two novels and one collection of linked short stories, Buying On Time, which was nominated for both the City of Toronto Book Award and the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. His last novel, Woman in Bronze, was a Globe and Mail Best Book selection. He lives in Toronto, where he is the director for the Humber School for Writers.

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CBC Metro Morning: Mentoring Writers

For those of you who may have missed an interview about our mentorship program and TOK, Book 6 on CBC’s Metro Morning here is another opportunity to hear it.
*Guest host Karen Horsman spoke with writer Terri Favro and with David Layton. He was her mentor in a program for emerging writers sponsored by Diaspora Dialogues.
Listen audio (runs 7:42)*

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Torontoist: Diaspora Dialogues Lets Toronto’s Literary Voices Shine

In case you didn’t get a chance to read the Torontoist article  about us (printed on April 7, 2011) here it is for you to enjoy. Thanks to Erin Balser the journalist who wrote this piece.

Diaspora Dialogues isn’t just the name of your English literature grad school seminar—it’s also a Toronto literary organization running innovative programs with the city and the storytellers who live here.

Designed to support writing that reflects Toronto’s diverse artistic and literary culture, Diaspora Dialogues works in three major ways: through creating multidisciplinary programming for partner festivals and services like Word on the Street, Luminato, and the Toronto Public Library; through their teen writing program, Young Writers from the Edge; and through an annual mentorship program, which pairs emerging Toronto writers with established voices to improve their craft and receive advice about their work.”

Read the rest of the piece here

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Mia Herrera: How Friday Nights with Diaspora Dialogues at Keep Toronto Reading changed her life

We came across this wonderful post by a woman called Mia Herrera who writes blogs for yorkscene.com. It’s a great website which keeps you updated with what’s going on with arts, culture and entertainment in York Region.

Her blog spoke about how Friday Nights with Diaspora Dialogues at Toronto Public Library’s Keep Toronto Reading festival changed her life.

A couple of years ago, in my final year of university, I caught wind of a Diaspora Dialogues event held in conjunction with the Toronto-wide festival: Keep Toronto Reading. I had never heard of KTR, nor had I ever attended a reading before. Though I had heard about various literary events happening around Toronto, I’d made lots of excuses not to go. The commute sucked, I should probably spend my extra time studying or working, and I wasn’t too crazy about attending events where I didn’t know anyone. The bottom line: The event was out of my comfort zone.”

Read her full blog here.

Read all YRAC blogs here.

Join us April 15 and 29 at Friday Nights with Diaspora Dialogues

Our popular series in partnership with the Toronto Public Library’s Keep Toronto Reading Festival is back – in a new location! Join us in the Atrium at the Toronto Reference Library for our uniquely eclectic program of readings and performances.

Keep Toronto Reading is Toronto Public Library’s month-long, city-wide celebration of books and reading.

April 15 and 29, 7 pm 
Atrium, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street

Friday, April 15 – 7:00 PM
Readings by James Bartleman, Cynthia Holz, Alicia Peres and Allyson Blood
Excerpted play reading of Cycle of a Sari by nisha ahuja
The Wind in the Leaves Collective presents a performance of poetry by charles c. smith
Hosted by Dalton Higgins

For more details

Friday, April 29 – 7:00 PM
Readings by Jacob McArthur Mooney, Antanas Sileika, AnAdebe DeRango-Adem and Joyce Wayne
Excerpted play reading of Complex by Rebecca Applebaum
Spoken word by Angelica LeMinh
Hosted by Dalton Higgins


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A leg up on a steep and slippery path

This blog is taken from Open Book Toronto which is a great supporter of what we do here at Diaspora Dialogues.  

Diaspora Dialogues‘ mentorship program connects emerging writers with established writers. Past mentee Pradeep Solanki writes about his experience working with his mentor, Rabindranath Maharaj. You can read more about the Diaspora Dialogues mentorship program here.

By Pradeep Solanki

There is a saying in Hindu literature which says that on the spiritual path (as well as any other worthwhile but arduous endeavor) one must pursue it with the same urgency as a man running for the lake when his hair is on fire. I suppose for me the desire to be a writer had always been with me but it took a near-death experience to alight that fire. I was not expected to survive my heart attack, but somehow I did. And like many people who beat the odds, I felt there had to be a purpose to why I was spared. Coupled with that, the near-death experience was so profound, so vivid and so mysterious that I needed a systematic way to process it. And so I turned to my love of writing for answers.

During my early days as writer, I was naïve enough to believe that my work was polished enough for publication. I churned out some 40 stories and mailed each one to practically every literary magazine in Canada. Soon the rejections began to arrive, mostly form letters, but a few came with hand-written encouragements. I was fortunate enough on my journey to have met Wayson Choy, the award-winning writer and fellow heart-survivor. He graciously read my work and said that I had talent, but if I wanted to avoid rejection letters what I needed to do was to work on my craft.

It was during this trial-and-error phase of honing craft that I saw a call for submissions from Diaspora Dialogues. I read with great interest about their free mentorship program (M.G. Vassanji was one of the mentors that year; he is one of my favorite authors). Plus, there was a chance to be published in DD’s annual anthology. With hasty enthusiasm I sent out what I then considered my best short story. Some three weeks later, the letter from Diaspora Dialogues arrived and I tore it open with expectant glee. It was another rejection letter, suggesting that I try again next year. And I did. This time, when the envelope with the prominent DD logo arrived in the post, I was cautious. The letter was thicker than the one the previous year. Prepared for disappointment, I shut my bedroom door and opened it in private. I had been accepted. I should have been happy, right? Wrong. The mentor assigned to me was not M.G. Vassanji, it was Rabindranath Maharaj. I knew Rabindranath was a respected and gifted writer, but he was still not M.G. Vassanji. Rabindranath’s style of writing vastly differed from mine: I wrote magic realism, my stories were philosophical; he wrote about alienation, his stories were character studies. How could this man possibly be of help?

Well, it only took the first feedback email from Rabindranath to show me how wrong I had been. Not only is he an accomplished writer, but he is an experienced teacher. He understood my style better than I did, and he knew how to explain things in a way that made sense. For example, one criticism I had heard more than once about my work from others was that I had a tendency to introduce tidbits of information which took the reader away from the main narrative. So in this story I had been careful to keep it tight. Rabindranath pointed out the places where expansion of side-details would enrich the story. He explained that if I did it in a way that revealed more about the protagonist, then these side-details would not distract the reader but rather engage the reader further. Of course he was right. On the second rewrite (we are allowed a total of three) Rabindranath was mostly copy editing with an eye for rhythm. I asked him if it would be more helpful for me to submit a second story for the third feedback instead of the same one. He generously agreed. In fact, he was very generous with answering questions in between the drafts as well. I ended up accepting almost all of his suggestions and I feel my story was much stronger with his help. Diaspora Dialogues agreed; they are publishing it in the anthology TOK 6.

I felt so encouraged that I sent a proposal for a short fiction collection to a small publisher, along with a sample story (the one I worked with Rabindranath on). To my surprise, the publisher liked the sample story so much that she asked to see the full manuscript. The collection is presently under consideration.

I would heartily recommend this program to any writer serious about getting published. It is certainly a leg up on a path that is often steep and slippery.

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‘The Physics Yardstick’

Martin Mordecai was one of the mentors for our mentorship program 2010/2011. Here he talks about his experience. You can find the current open call for submissions for our mentorship program 2011/2012 which connects emerging writers to professional writers here. Deadline is May 16th.


I felt myself, at one and the same time,
well-suited and totally unsuited to be a ‘mentor’ to ‘emerging’ writers, when Helen Walsh asked me. For one thing, I’m something of an emerging writer myself, having published my first book – co-written with my wife Pamela, a real writer who’s been earning a living by writing for 25 years – at the age of fifty-nine; my first and so-far only novel appeared at age sixty-seven. Then Helen mentioned money and I was sold. I still don’t know why I was asked but I am glad for the experience.

Having grown up on the literature of the early- to mid-twentieth century – I’m not much for the Victorians excepting Dickens – my imagination and stylistic preferences are fairly conventional, even old-fashioned. And I confess to reading, shall we say, selectively in ‘modern’ literature, with little patience for theories, pre- or post-colonial. So to be foisted upon four very twenty-first century writers must have been somewhat baffling to them, but was a learning experience for me.

The different ways of telling stories that came at me from the mentees was, in a curious way, more affective on a manuscript page than on the page of a published book. My own storytelling style — to the extent that I write stories — tends to be fairly linear. But the story ‘Hunger’, my contribution to TOK 6*, which began as a completely linear concept (and got nowhere fast) started prisming as soon as I decided to abandon linearity and thereafter got written quite easily. Its quality is a matter for debate but it was a very liberating exercise, for which I thank them.

Fortunately for both of us, they came well-equipped with their own very distinctive voices. Mostly what I did was apply ‘the physics yardstick’: If A is at one end of a very long street s/he can’t possibly see the colour of B’s eyes at the other end. It’s something that’s easy to forget in the creative rush of actual writing, so better applied by an outside eye. I’d like to think it helped.

There was one unexpected and marvelous bonus in the experience. One of the mentees turned out to be the daughter of someone whom I didn’t know well enough in a previous life – we were diplomats – to call ‘friend’ but whom I’d liked and respected enormously. You never know who you’re going to meet at Diaspora Dialogues.

by Martin Mordecai

*Diaspora Dialogues launches the sixth book in its TOK: Writing the New Toronto anthology series, with readings and a lively panel discussion from emerging and established writers, including Rishma Dunlop, David Layton, Karen Connelly and more.
April 20, 7:30 pm
Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West


Martin Mordecai has led many lives: civil servant, diplomat, journalist, radio and television director, publisher, book distributor, and, through it all, husband and father. While acting out these various incarnations he has scribbled: diaries, stories, occasional poems, magazine articles and two novels, of which the young adult novel Blue Mountain Trouble is the first to be completed. It began life as a bedtime story to a child who is now in his thirties. During the writing of Blue Mountain Trouble, Mordecai received juried grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.  In 2000, Culture and Customs of Jamaica, a reference work co-written with his wife Pamela Mordecai, was published by Greenwood Press. Blue Mountain Trouble is published by Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), New York and simultaneously published by Scholastic Canada.

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