When I was seven, I attempted my first novel by tracing my favourite book. I still have the pages, their edges now frayed and yellow. But it took me a long time to pursue my writing professionally. Though my parents nurtured my early love of books, it was tough to get their support as an adult. Many Trinidadian immigrant families like mine focus on professional careers. So I became a lawyer instead. But my heart wasn’t in it.
Then I heard about Diaspora Dialogues, an organization that supports diverse writers to turn their craft into a career. In 2017, I was one of just six writers to be accepted into their mentorship program. My mentor, Farzana Doctor, essentially taught me how to write a book. Most writers, especially women writers of colour, have no guidance. They have to teach themselves, which can take a very long time. But just two and a half years later, I’ve completed my first manuscript, and Diaspora Dialogues is connecting me with literary agents so I can publish.
Like many industries, writing and publishing excludes women of colour. But storytelling is one of the most powerful ways of creating social change.
Now, I’m paying it forward through community-engaged social justice work. I facilitate creative writing workshops that support marginalized voices and build self-esteem. I’m also hoping to join the leadership council at the Writers’ Union of Canada, so I can bring more emerging writers of colour into the fold.
One of the biggest struggles for any writer is self-doubt and self-criticism. That struggle is much greater for women writers of colour. We rarely see our stories being published, so we often silence ourselves before we’re given the chance to speak. But I’ve now been in rooms with editors and agents who are genuinely excited about my projects. I’ve realized our stories are important. We deserve to be heard, and we deserve success.
What can people with power and resources, including philanthropists, do?
Use your networks and resources to open doors for artists who are women of colour. In Canada, the median yearly income of a writer is just $12,000 – that doesn’t go far in Toronto. Toronto’s arts scene is a substantial part of the city’s economy. It generates a lot of income, though not always for the artists themselves. Toronto is the main driver of artistic creation in the country. If we lose that, then what do we have?
What can we all do?
Support women of colour to publish their stories. The world is designed to make people who look like me feel like we don’t belong. When you read our stories, you understand our perspective a little better. You see our humanity, and you recognize that our art is essential to the economic fabric that helps enrich this city. Even if you stay in your bubble, even if you don’t know anyone who is different than you, you can always pick up a book.
Fiona Raye Clarke is a writer and art director who joined Diaspora Dialogues to help turn her passion into a career. Diaspora Dialogues is one of the organizational members of the Trust Collective, a collaborative of 50 women philanthropists and women-led and/or women-serving charitable organizations working to advance gender equality in Toronto. You can connect with her on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn!