Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Words From The Street: The March Madness Edition

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With all due respect to the fantastic national book festival that I’ve participated in a few times over the last few years, with a moniker similar to the name of this column. And to the fact that my writing deadlines will have to be, er, “pushed back” because the NCAA chose to host all of these great playoff-styled basketball buzzer beaters during a time when authors with Fall 2012 titles are scrambling around to get the right pics to accompany their prose. This March ramble has much less to do with hanging out with Polkaroo from TVOKids or learning how to get growing with Frankie Flowers in Queen Park than with the bottom-up reportage you’ve all grown to adore (or abhor, if you’re a curmudgeonly, anti-social media activist who ain’t down with the POC), in which I get to wax as one of the voices of the hip-hopperati, as an active street literature denizen and Twit Lit. pusher (Twitterati! Twitterature!).

Scribing is For Suckas?
I was hanging out in the west end, out in Rexdale, conducting some writing workshops last month for a group of high-school kids. These students were as fully up to speed on the social, political happenings as I, someone double their age. We all agreed that leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney is a wealthy wank (and wankster), and that you have to be independently wealthy to consider living anywhere near Vancouver. However, what really caught my attention was the fact that few of these students considered writing to be a viable career. They tended to describe the profession as a hobbyist would: “Yeah, when I get older I’ll become an engineer or teacher, and then write on the side, on weekends.” Perhaps they had become hip to things like a recent Writers’ Union of Canada report which said that authors earned an average of less than $12,000 a year for their writing. Or how about the oft-circulated one about the Canadian author whose book sells 5,000 is being considered a bestseller? That’s a low number, by any measure, and youth know that. And if your name ain’t Atwood, you are likely struggling to sustain a proper living (though Atwood-Higgins has a nice ring to it). When it comes to income-generation, writing as a career has always looked grim, especially if your generation has been weaned on the bling. I told one of the kids that I’d written for $1 / word for many publications, and his eyes lit up. And then he tweeted that he wants to write for the same amount some day. There was not time to get into the fact that it’s been the same $1 / word pay since the ‘90s, but you gotta love these kids.

Pimping Grants
I’ve had a very good relationship with the Mother Corporation over the last few years in that they’ve been wanting to showcase more hip hop across the airwaves. I’m connected that way, so I am always happy to oblige. As part of a new CBC blog strategy, I’m interviewing one of Canada’s rap legends, a former pimp of the microphone (and one in real life), and he says something interesting. He’s been living in Los Angeles since the mid-’90s. He argued persuasively that many artists in Canada live off Canadian grant monies and as a result might not be all that interested in selling big numbers. He doubts weather it is realistic to expect a superior art to emerge, one that sells briskly, if writers spend much of their work time in preparing grant applications. Of course, I’m replaying his commentary with some diplomacy, but he continued: “In the real world the government doesn’t give you money for art, you go find money to create your art. And you learn to sell your art.” I wondered to myself, if grants go away, would many Canadian authors be pole-dancing on Yonge or panhandling on College St.? It’s a good question, to which I have no answer.

The Un-Oprah Effect
I’ll admit it. I used to watch Oprah as much as the next middle-American-country-bumpkin soccer mom, despite being perched in the northeast section of the concrete jungle we call Toronto. I watch the newer OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), too. As an author, I always wonder what’s going to replace that Oprah Book Club Effect? She mentions your book. You’re the new Atwood. You’re Atwood-Higgins. But with Nike Shox, dreadlocks and a little more booty (eds. this particular scribe shed his ‘locks in December 2011 after 16 years, but work with me here). Oprah’s Life Class hits Toronto this April, and she’s bringing with her guests like Deepak Chopra. Love Oprah to death, but ain’t no authors could remotely afford to attend this event. You know like how when a big event hits down and some crafty, subversive promoters stage an alternative to the event. Am I gonna have to bring back my Daltpak Chopra nom de plume, and conduct a more affordable, ‘hood Life Class? FYI, Daltpak is a spiritual guru who’s here to serve all Parkdale residents, but with a literary twist. Who knows. Maybe he will suggest to whomever plays the Landsdowne Ave. Oprah to his Dufferin St. Daltpak that she bring back that book club. There’s nothing else around that has such an immediate impact on the industry or that creates such mass excitement around reading, regardless of what the literary snobs might want to think.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. Author of the forthcoming Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press), Higgins has written four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) that examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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