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Book gives a voice to Toronto writers

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The editors of City Voices: A Book of Monologues by Toronto Artists are, from left, Anila Pant, Jenna Harris and Ronit Rubenstein. [Max Telzerow photo]

As a reaction to recent government cuts in arts funding, a group of writers are hoping to showcase the strength of the Toronto arts community and introduce people to writers who live, or have lived, in the city.

They also wanted to give their fellow artists a platform for their work.

“Sometimes writing can be a solitary endeavour,” said Jenna Harris, creator and editor of a new book, City Voices: A Book of Monologues by Toronto Artists. “[This book is] something that can bring people together to strengthen the network of these individual artists.”

Harris, who is originally from Kingston, Ont., lived in New York City before moving to Toronto several years ago. When she discovered that it was sometimes difficult for artists to share their work, she created a project that would showcase work from artists with different backgrounds and careers.

“It’s an industry where I realize you do need to create your own opportunities or people won’t know you’re there or the work you’re doing,” she said.

In the book, 28 writers share two-minute-long monologues that range in style from theatrical to spoken word and poetry, Harris said. Some of the monologues are based on plays the authors wrote, but the material is all brand new.

Harris said this kind of book is especially necessary, given that Toronto has not been particularly supportive of its arts scene in recent years.

Arts funding is vital to show artists that their work is valued, Harris explained.

“This is who I am. It’s what I do, but it’s also what feeds me on a daily basis,” she said of her work. “When that [support] goes away, it does feel like what artists are doing isn’t worthy.”

Adding to the political nature of the book, the editors approached NDP member of Parliament Olivia Chow to write a foreword. Harris said they chose her because of her ongoing support for the arts.

Chow wrote her introduction in the form of a monologue, portraying herself as a character talking about Toronto and the fantastic arts community, Harris said.

Despite focusing the book on Toronto’s art scene, none of the three editors grew up in the city, noted co-editor Ronit Rubenstein, who is from Montreal. The third editor is Anila Pant, who grew up in Kingston, Ont.

“I think we’ve all really found a lot to appreciate about the arts scene here,” Rubenstein said, citing its vibrancy and its youth.

At the same time, it’s hard, when you are just starting out, to know how to get your work out there, she said. So this project will hopefully give young writers a chance to see their work in print.

One of the big concerns at the start of the project was whether there would be enough authors interested in submitting a monologue to a self-published collection, Harris said. But she put out the word and received 150 submissions, which she said proved to her there was a need for this type of project.

In order to ensure the monologues were picked based on merit and not influenced by a writer’s reputation, the editors read all monologues without knowing the author, Rubenstein said.

The writers they selected range in age from 13 to over 80, Harris said. Some are seasoned writers, while others are relatively new.

Kat Sandler, for example, is one of the more experienced of the group. Her 2012 Fringe Festival production, Help Yourself, won the Fringe New Play contest.

Rubenstein said she hopes readers will learn about the community of writers in the city who are writing plays that they may enjoy, and perhaps in the future, they’ll be drawn to see a performance if they recognize a name from the book. But it’s not just for locals, she added. Anyone can curl up with it and enjoy it for the most part.

“We’ve created [the book] as a journey. So you start with one monologue and it leads into another as if you’re reading a short story,” Harris said. “This really is a showcase of the type of people who are speaking out in our city in 2012, and we hope that the diversity within it is reflective of Toronto.”

To find out more about City Voices, which will be launched at a Dec. 19 event, visit cityvoices.ca.

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