Creating Community with the Brockton Writers Series

A reading series lives by its community. A rule that the Brockton Writers Series has managed to abide by for nearly a decade in the Brockton neighbourhood. It was a peculiar thought to chew on, standing in front of Glad Day Bookshop, halfway across the city. A sandwich board beside me, “Brockton Reading Series 6:30 pm” scribbled in white chalk.

It’s Brockton’s first season in a bookstore still in its first year at this new location.

New bookshop.

New reading series.

I aim to be impressed, by Brockton’s community and the new.

Walking in, I’m immediately taken by Glad Day’s layout, which puts the toothpaste squeeze of narrow bars and their backrooms to shame. The first thing I noticed was the bar. An entire wall dedicated to fancy-named teas and local beers. The opposite wall was bookshelves stuffed with the LGBT genre, and chairs packed in the middle. A full AV setup is at the far end, including a projector. Literary series are rarely equipped with projectors. I’m mildly impressed already.

I pushed through the crowd of Brockton’s audience, readers, and friends. They’re slouched against the bar, or chatting it up in their cliques. By the window are a couple tea-drinking “regulars” keeping an eye down in their cups, an eye up at what is about to happen. Brockton has not suffered from heir location change. Reader popularity could explain that. But reader popularity explains most audience. Despite the crush of people, I pick myself a seat before most sit down, and dump my bag in front of me.

Anyone with an elementary understanding of the Brockton (or read the Facebook event description) knows of Brockton’s writerly workshops. Teva Harrison, the graphic novelist, starts the night and her workshop with an acknowledgment of indigenous people. It’s a preface and an understanding that is spreading to other lit events around Toronto.

Her talk: “The Constraints of Form” is less a presentation rather a reading in a methodical tone. Her performance is interjected with powerpoint images and mixing charts and flipbooks into story.

“Thank you for your time and attention is a gift” she ends.

A 16-minute break follows, and audience cluster back into their familiar relations. I chat with an elderly woman next to me, all the while mentally guessing which reader she came to see. I guess wrong.

Eventually, Farzana Doctor, Brockton’s founder, came to the mic. She rattled off the name of her volunteer team, expounding on their contributions that keep the Brockton thriving.

Sarah: guest speaker coordinator

Dan: blog/co-host

Sonia: photographer

Nancy: publicity

As she gushes each name, it’s clear to me that Farzana’s ability to inspire that has led to a tight-knit team, any lit reading series would aspire to attract. Someone taps me on the shoulder. My neighbour hands me a jug. Marked on the side is “PWYC: $3–5”. I put in a crumpled $5 and send it along.

Next was the main attraction, the readers. The readers began:

Manasi Nene: Traces of her Indian accent still cling to off-normal poems of fairy parents and the drugged hallucinations of the 3 bears. In her sappy-tone, fairy tales are ruthlessly deconstructed of racism, classicism, and sexism.

Casey Plett: A transgender writer, whose words are sci-fi intersectionality, performed in low-tone buildups and reaching high climaxes.

Giovanna Riccio: An Italian poet whose dry enunciations mould her poems.

Kateri Akiwenzie Damm: Native American artist and small-press owner. She doesn’t begin herself with an intro, only a hard pounding language transcribing an ode to women.

At the end, when short salutations and thanks to the readers would wrap up any other reading series, instead Farzana brings the readers back up where they take questions from the audience. “What is the future for feminist writers?” and “What is your favourite coffee?”, are the highlights, prompting much thought and winging it from the readers.

The Brockton Writers Series is no longer in the Brockton neighbourhood. But it wasn’t the location or its writerly workshop that makes Brockton a literary powerhouse. Rather it is the tight-ship of enthusiastic volunteers and a careful curation of savvy readers that makes attending Brockton an utter wow.

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