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Lessons from The FOLD 2023

The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is a conference held in Brampton, Ontario every year that highlights diverse and underrepresented voices. I went to the online version of the conference in 2022 and learned so much from the sessions there, so I attended again online this year, 2023.

I attended six sessions, and I’d like to highlight a few of my key takeaways from each. Professional development is an essential piece of writing and editing, so I hope you can gain something from these insights even if you weren’t able to attend the festival. Maybe you’ll be able to attend next year!

These are the sessions I cover. Click the heading to jump to the corresponding section:

“The Truth About Trends in Publishing” with Hana El Niwairi, Fazeela Jiwa, Casey Plett, and Kern Carter (moderator)

This panel focused largely on the relationship between publishing, capitalism, and social justice. The speakers acknowledged that publishing wasn’t built to be equitable, and we need to improve publishing systems and shift the growth/productivity mindset the industry currently operates within. Some ideas the speakers posed for improvement:

  • Create better regulations within publishing houses.

  • Create new forms of discoverability to highlight underrepresented voices.

  • Increase consumer responsibility.

  • Encourage people in power to use their influence in a meaningful way.

  • Bring new people into power, and provide support systems for them.

How do you think publishing can improve?

Sensitivity Reads and Conscious Editing with Ameema Saeed, Fazeela Jiwa, Ronan Sadler, and Ardo Omer (moderator)

In this panel, the speakers discussed how sensitivity reading, also known as authenticity reading, is more common now because readers are demanding better representation. Key points from this discussion:

  • Sensitivity reading needs to happen early enough in the process to make actual changes.

  • One reader can't “give permission” to an author; they can't speak for an entire community.

For more on sensitivity reading, see “Authenticity Reading: Why Should You Care?”

Disabled Futures with Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, Susan Mockler, Nisi Shawl, and Amanda Leduc (moderator)

The speakers in this panel discussed how disability has been represented throughout history, how it’s represented now, and what they hope to see in the future of disability representation. Although we are now seeing more disabled characters in stories, disability isn’t new, and, as Amanda Leduc said, “accessibility has always been a part of human existence.”

The speakers looked at how disability is a complex topic:

  • It’s not simply a binary of pain or no pain.

  • Not having pain is often seen as something you need to participate in capitalism and productivity (rather than just wanting to exist without pain).

  • There are ties between pain and pleasure.

  • How we identify as disabled is not the same now as it used to be.

  • The majority of people with a wide lived experience will become disabled at some point in their life.

What have you learned from reading books with disability representation?

Queer Joy with Markus Harwood-Jones, Danny Ramadan, Tanya Turton, and Emmy Nordstrom Higdon (moderator)

This panel was all about queerness as a joyful space and an act of resistance. The speakers discussed how so much of queer joy is about reclaiming what queer people have lost, or possibilities that might have been, or rewriting histories and imagining other realities. They shared their own anecdotes of joy and gave advice for living joyful writing lives:

  • Cultivate audacity in small pieces. — Tanya Turton

  • Practice softness on difficult days. — Danny Ramadan

What’s your favorite joyful queer book?

What’s Love Got to Do with It? with Roselle Lim, Gia de Cadenet, Markus Harwood-Jones, and Lavanya Narasimhan (moderator)

Romance readers rejoice! This panel brought together three romance authors to discuss all things romance writing. My two biggest takeaways from this session:

  • Romance explores “tender tension.” — Markus Harwood-Jones

  • Sometimes the best reward is a food reward, like Popeyes. — Roselle Lim

Acquisitions and Editing with Fazeela Jiwa

In this session, Jiwa spoke about her role as the acquisitions and developmental editor for Fernwood Publishing. She positions editing as “a creative practice that can support liberation struggles.” I could probably write an entire blog post about Jiwa’s ideas here, but these are my key takeaways:

  • “The author is the expert and [the editor] is their most engaged reader.”

  • Editors can be “political accomplice[s]” to their authors.

  • Authors are not commodities and an editor needs to support them in the context of writing: through time constraints, health concerns, family concerns, etc.

  • We can see “development editing as an intimate collaboration that has the potential to be a revolutionary practice of being in relationship.”

Jiwa’s points about editing line up perfectly with Bookmarten Editorial’s business values.

I am grateful that I got the chance to attend this year’s festival, and I look forward to The FOLD 2024!

If you attended The FOLD 2023, what was your favorite session, and what was your biggest takeaway?

If you’re reading this post before June 7, 2023, you can still buy a ticket and watch the sessions! Also, check out The FOLD on Instagram for monthly diversity reading challenges.


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