In his recent book on the contribution of gay writers to the development of American literature, author Christopher Bram writes, “The gay revolution began as a literary revolution.”
This year’s Toronto Pride festivity sees the relaunch of Proud Voices, a Canadian queer literary event that also carries the revolutionary spirit. Hosted by Toronto’s venerable Glad Day Bookshop, the series offers a diverse range of live readings by poets, playwrights, authors, artists and queer literary folk of all stripes.
Proud Voices was originally launched in 2007 under Fatima Amarshi, former Pride Toronto executive director and current Glad Day co-owner, explains Spencer Charles Smith, a member of the group that recently took over operations at Glad Day. Amarshi and Susan G Cole ran the series as part of Toronto Pride programming until 2010.
Smith believes the event fits perfectly into the shop’s new mandate. “This incarnation of Glad Day is committed to being both an incubator and a platform for the multiplicity of our community’s stories,” he says. “We believe that there’s a direct correlation between the sharing of story and building of strong community.” For Smith, Proud Voices also exemplifies the spirit of Toronto Pride itself. “Pride,” he continues, “is supposed to be a time of community, so it’s a priority for us to infuse story into a week that might otherwise be missing an opportunity to be sharing our roots and our visions of the future.”
Among the many offerings at this inaugural reboot of Proud Voices is a reading from Waawaate Fobister’s new play, Medicine Boy. For Fobister, being a part of the event presents “a great opportunity for artists/writers to have stuff read for the first time.
“I will have my partner coming in to read with me,” he says, and “one of us will play a 50-plus-year-old.”
In addition to being the multi-award-winning playwright and performer behind Agokwe, Fobister is a regular patron of Glad Day. “I don’t think I would be able to find books on two-spirited people anywhere [else] in Toronto, unless I make a special order.” Fobister’s reading will give audiences a first taste of his newest play before it opens at the upcoming SummerWorks festival, produced by Anishnaabe Theatre Performance. Native Earth Performing Arts artistic director Tara Beagan and stars Garret C Smith and PJ Prudat will direct the production. “We are an all-native cast, crew and creative team,” says Fobister, who is excited to be sharing the bill at Proud Voices with the likes of Sky Gilbert and Nina Arsenault — “They are pretty iconic!”
For Arsenault — who recently launched Trans(per)forming Nina Arsenault: An Unreasonable Body of Work, a collection of essays about her life and art practice edited by Judith Rudakoff — events like Proud Voices fill an essential void in our often disconnected contemporary world.
“Social networking is pervasive, but it creates such limited impressions of us as human beings,” Arsenault says. “The danger is that we actually start to believe that the people in our community are only as two dimensional as these technologies allow us to communicate. Queer literature and storytelling conveys a much deeper understanding of ourselves and creates the opportunity for empathy between people.”
Arsenault says she has had “the best times doing performative readings.”
“I will be reading a story about Nancy Valentino,” Arsenault explains, “a transsexual woman whom I consider to be my spiritual mother. She was deeply Catholic but also interested in mysticism. She saw life with great mystery and wonder.
“Also,” Arsenault adds, “she’d had more plastic surgery than me.”
With Proud Voices, Glad Day’s new owners carry on their commitment to community and diversity. According to Smith, the group also hopes to once again become involved in the Word on the Street festival.
May the revolution continue.