Jael Richardson: The Power to Cultivate a National Identity

When I was younger, going to the bookstore meant driving with my mother to Streetsville – a small neighbourhood in Mississauga, the Toronto suburb where I grew up. The bookstore was – and still is – a small, narrow shop in an old village full of history. It was crammed full of figurines, children’s books, cards, Bibles, and commentaries. There was a stereo near the register that played the latest CD’s, which were lined up alphabetically across an entire wall where I first met Steven Green and Amy Grant.

The owners were friends of ours, or so I thought when I was younger. They referred to my mother by her first name – and still do. They always had whatever she needed. And on the rare occasion they didn’t, they would order it in and leave a message on our answering machine when it arrived. For most of my childhood, whenever I got a new book, I knew it had come from that little bookstore in Streetsville.

When I went away to university, I discovered The Bookshelf in Guelph, and when my first book came out, I was invited there one Saturday to promote The Stone Thrower. I sat at a table that was tucked in between shelves of children’s stories. Whenever things got slow at the signing, I shopped, piling book after book on the floor, flipping through the pictures. By the time I was done, I had accumulated a significant stack I wanted to own and another stack for gifts. There is no doubt in my mind that I spent more than I made.

I live in Brampton now. There is a lovely independent Africentric bookstore here where we hosted events for Authors for Indies last year as part of the announcement about the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) – Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories. One year later, and one week before the inaugural festival, I’ll be spending Authors for Indies at the festival bookseller’s store – Booklore in Orangeville, Ontario.  

As an advocate for diverse, Canadian stories, there is no doubt in my mind that Canadian bookstores play a fundamental role in the improvements that need to be made in the accessibility and awareness of #DiverseCanLit. They play a critical role in the books that people know about. They possess the power to challenge and cultivate a collective national identity in a way that big box stores can’t. They are an author’s most important ally in neighbourhoods an author may never be able to visit in person. They build their lives and their livelihoods on books, and I am looking forward to joining with authors and booksellers across the country in this unique national chorus to celebrate booksellers and books.

Jael Richardson

Jael Richardson is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The book received a CBC Bookie Award and earned Richardson an Acclaim Award and a My People Award as an Emerging Artist. A children’s book based on the memoir is coming May 2016. Excerpts from her first play, my upside down black face, are published in the anthology T-Dot Griots: An Anthology of Toronto’s Black Storytellers. In 2013, Richardson served as the Toronto District School Board’s Writer-in-Residence. Richardson has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph, and she lives in Brampton, Ontario where she serves as the Artistic Director for the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD).