Jael Richardson, a longtime Brampton resident, has a passion for literacy and acts on it. She’s the founder and director of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). The aim, Richardson explains, is to “celebrate stories that are underrepresented in Canadian literature, stories that go beyond the narrow scope of Canada’s current literary culture, that employ different methods of storytelling.”
With a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Guelph, Richardson taught creative writing at Humber College until 2014, when she decided to step out to devote herself to FOLD and writing. Her first publishing success was an inspirational book about her father, legendary Canadian Football League (CFL) quarterback Chuck Ealey. The Stone Thrower tells the story of a boy growing up in a poor, gritty neighbourhood in an Ohio Rust Belt town. There, he routinely throws stones at a moving target, a single letter on a passing rail car. Eventually, he can’t miss. He joins his high school football team as a quarterback and since the quarterback’s primary job involves hitting a moving target, he’s a star set to shine for the CFL.
His mother (Richardson’s grandmother), plays a big role. She’s a single mom, hardworking and determined to see her son succeed in life. She teaches him the values that will help him achieve his goals, values that most importantly include a good education. The Stone Thrower is now a children’s illustrated book geared to three to five year old readers.
Richardson says though she’d often fantasized being an author, she could never quite visualize it in reality. She believes race played a self-limiting role that made her believe writing and publishing was something other people did, not ‘people like her’. She credits Judith Thompson, a multi-award winning Canadian playwright and teacher, for helping her overcome self-doubt by convincing her that she has a gift.
Now, Richardson is a regular book-review contributor on the CBC Radio One arts program ‘Q’, a writer and passionate promoter of her literary offspring, FOLD. In her quest to spread the word about literary diversity, she explains, “A lot of people think literary fiction is the best kind of writing. Most grants and major prizes cater to literary fiction, books that are artistic, highbrow, but for many consumers, kind of boring. Statistically, commercial fiction sells more. Crime, romance and thriller genres sell more than literary fiction. Canada produces a massive amount of literary fiction and very little of those other genres just because it’s perceived to be better. FOLD is trying to dispel the myth that literary fiction is superior.”
Brampton is ground zero for FOLD. Richardson says that, as one of Canada’s most culturally diverse cities, “Brampton is ideally suited to serve the literary aspirations of writers young and old of every colour, culture, gender, ability, sexual orientation and religion.”
FOLD provides programs for schools and libraries and sponsors literary events at the Rose Theatre. For writers, and readers who love writers, check out thefoldcanada.org for upcoming events.
In the photo, Jael Richardson: Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) founder and director.