Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Tha Literary Life: Prophet Versus Profit

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Hey you, Joe / Josephine Author? Yeah, you in the back over by the dining room table. Uhh, not to sound trite, but why exactly do you do this lit. thing? Y’know, scribing for hundreds of hours on end to produce a tome, which might engender some temporary social spotlight, media views and a few greenbacks every now and then. Is it all worth it in the end? Do you now feel like an evolved high-arty humanoid who can also pay some bills in one fell swoop? Are you doing this to make dough or bake dough (at the local bakery up the street, for minimum wage, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to generate revenue to support your literary ambitions)?

Are you cranking out these new books for props, paper or posterity? Regardless, I find myself running into two distinct literary camps on Megacity street corners.

I live near downtown Toronto, so on the one hand there are the emerging (and some mid-career) writers who seem more thrilled about getting invited to schmancy soirees, lightly attended book launches in the right ‘hoods and Giller parties. These folks' raison d'être is to schmooze and hobnob with the homogenous and generate Mid-Sized Ideas much like a prophet would.

On the other hand, I run into some scribes more concerned about making dough. Generating Big Ideas that are ahead of their times, while you are broke now, does not quite interest this crowd too much. In these corporate merger-obsessed times, and with recession(ary) workplace measures being unfairly orchestrated against many 9-5’ers, across professions and disciplines, by The Suits / The Man / Big Brother / Babylon, this particularly unique set of $cribe$ are in this to win this. And get paid, like Niffenegger (or Gladwell).

Now, don’t get me wrong. One set of interests (chillin’ with snooty prophets) doesn’t necessarily have to undermine the other (balling with dapper profits). Somewhere, there must be a comfortable middle ground in all of this. Some way to get paid and literarily laid, without having strayed too far from your moral constitution.

Millennial authors trying to do the (Lawrence) Hillian thing, and make ginormous career moves that debunk all kinds of mythology around who the aged Canadian literati think might or might not sell based on an author’s surname, religion, sexuality, age group, race, gender, political party affiliations, et al., are at an advantage in this new words race.

While (sadly) too many aspects of the Toronto literary scene looks and feels really non-diverse and old, awards don’t really reward any kind of youthey perspectives, and with book fests acting like boomer and zoomer havens, I am hoping Millenial Lit. output will be strong(er). It should be? Why? Because this demographic grouping are the future, has the time and don’t have to worry about rent.

By all accounts, teens and 20-somethings (and even 30-somethings now) are in no rush to leave home, find gainful employment, get married and follow through with all of the rest of that crapola. Those stone-aged benchmarks of success are like Myspace and News of the World. On life support or six feet under. And this strategy, geared around lack of lifer job opportunities, failing institutions like marriage and the rest, may work well for aspiring authors.

A new school prescription for success: marrying one’s prophet ambitions while generating some dinero, should go like this: Stay at home, living with parents until you're in your early 30s (hey, it’s happening anyway, just join the wave). You’ll be able to stay out of poverty (and hopefully accrue some resources) while taking the necessary time to figure out why contemporary marriages aren’t working. If you’re a young-ish literary talent, and your manuscript is that good, there’s really no point waiting to be discovered by some moribund Canadian gatekeeper intent on keeping ideas around Can Lit. stuck in the '80s!

Crank out an e-book, and go digital young man and woman ! Despite the loud mutterings coming from provincial Baby Booming technophobes, the web is where both youthful ambition and literary enterpri$e can both be achieved simultaneously. Ontario is cool, but the world can be yours.


Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and national magazine award-winning journalist. He is Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. In addition to writing numerous articles for Canadian and US print and on-line magazines, he is the author of Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi) and co-author of Hip Hop (Thomson Nelson) and Much Master T: A VJ’s Journey (ECW Press). As a broadcaster, Dalton has hosted his own TV show and has appeared as a pundit on every major Canadian network. You can visit Dalton at his blog. His most recent book is Fatherhood 4.0: iDad Applications Across Cultures (Insomniac Press).

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