This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.
Today we've got a very special Launchpad offering, The BREAKDOWN Book Tour. How does an artist break through without breaking down? Three outspoken femme writers, Vivek Shraya (The Subtweet), Amber Dawn (My Art is Killing Me) and Jillian Christmas (The Gospel of Breaking), voice themes of industry and community pressure, lateral violences, hard-won friendships and intergenerational healing. BREAKDOWN book tour is part cultural criticism, part resistance and wholly a celebration of narrative, verse and song.
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
Vivek Shraya: The Subtweet is a contemporary novel that is a friend-love story between two brown female musicians whose relationship is mediated by social media and white supremacy.
Amber Dawn: My Art is Killing Me is a collection of long poems that invites readers to examine how we expect artists to represent complex truths, while also punishing artists who dare to speak up.
Jillian Christmas: The Gospel of Breaking is a debut poetry collection that moves between lyric and prose, including meditations on blackness, family, longing, healing, and as many kinds of love as I could fit into 103 pages.
Describe your ideal reader:
VS: Brown women, Twitter users, anyone who has broken up with a friend.
AD: First and foremost, other trauma-informed and/or identity-based artists. I especially hope to connect with emerging memoirists, who may be thinking about issues of tokenism and gaslighting within the larger literary world.
JC: Others who are exploring their own personal story in relation to family legend, legacy, inheritance, and social mythology. This book is an unearthing that calls to readers who are willing to get their hands dirty with the business of their own beginnings.
What authors/books is your work in conversation with:
VS: Regarding The Subtweet—Sally Rooney, Michael DeForge, Gayatri Spivak and Meg Wolitzer.
AD: Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault, edited by Jen Sookfong Lee and Stacey May Fowles (2019) and Refuse: CanLit in Ruins, edited by Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak and Erin Wunker (2018). These recently released essay-based anthologies laid the dialogic foundation for me to write My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems.
JC: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen had an immense impact on me as a writer and witness of my own story. Nikki Giovanni’s Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day, Cicely Blain’s forthcoming Burning Sugar, and Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art are all at the table with me.
What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?
VS: I re-learnt that one of my strongest responsibilities as an artist is to trust my creative intentions and follow my curiosities, regardless of outsider feedback (which is always invaluable, but should never act as the final word).
AD: For years, I’ve encouraged writers, especially my creative writing students, that, perhaps, our best writing is waiting for us on the other side of shame. If we can get past those, often enforced, feelings that we’re not allowed have a voice, there’s a bounty of creativity waiting for us. I finally took my own advice. It took me five books, but I finally learned how to write shamelessly.
JC: The physicality of the book was somehow a surprise to me, when the poems came together and began to speak to one another, it was clear that years of embodied performance had made their way into the DNA of each poem. I learned that a book can sway and gesticulate, and that a somatic experience can live on the page.
An important part of any book launch is the thank yous. Go ahead, and acknowledge someone whose support has been integral to this project.
VS: There was a time when I thought the book wouldn’t see the light of day and I am so grateful to ECW Press for giving this book a home.
AD: Huge thanks to the librarians, literary festival staff and board members, bookstore owners and all the local book lovers that supported our would-be tour. Special shout out to the Saskatoon Poetic Arts Festival and McNally Robinson; I’ve never been to Saskatoon before and I hope to get the opportunity to read there again one day.
JC: A community of Black activists, artists, accomplices, mentors, and friends, here in Vancouver, a place I was told I would find no such things. And yet, I have been claimed and celebrated by connections who not only allow me to learn from their expansiveness, but also honour and understand mine.
This Spring you were scheduled to tour together on the Breakdown Book Tour. What is one quality you loved about your fellow tour-mates’ books?
VS: I know this is seemingly a cop-out on discussing the brilliance of her writing, but I love Amber Dawn’s book title: My Art is Killing Me. I obsess over titles and it is one of those titles that I genuinely wish I had thought of myself because it really speaks to the intersection of art, trauma and capitalism in a way that deeply resonates.
AD: The poems in Jillian Christmas’ debut collection had the stage as their workshop. These poems feel markedly different than poems that have been worked over in a creative writing classroom. There is a high level of emotional dynamism and a musicality that shows just how much time Christmas has spent evolving her craft and connecting with audiences before The Gospel of Breaking took shape on the page.
JC: Each character in The Subtweet is filled with rich nuance, endearing detail and revealing imperfection. Vivek allows these voices the freedom of being loved or hated for the wholeness of their humanity. She allows them to be seen from the other side of the screen, shaking the false dichotomy we are often handed in depictions of femme-friendship. The writing is tender and biting all at once, as challenging and comforting as its memorable leads. A lesson in character development I won’t soon forget.
Everyone talks about falling in love, but falling in friendship can be just as captivating. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins.
But as Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s stagnates, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, one career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the center of an internet firestorm.
Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a stirring examination of making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.
In her novels, poetry, and prose, Amber Dawn has written eloquently on queer femme sexuality, individual and systemic trauma, and sex work justice, themes drawn from her own lived experience and revealed most notably in her award-winning memoir How Poetry Saved My Life.
In this, her second poetry collection, Amber Dawn takes stock of the costs of coming out on the page in a heartrendingly honest and intimate investigation of the toll that artmaking takes on artists. These long poems offer difficult truths within their intricate narratives that are alternately incendiary, tender, and rapturous.
In a cultural era when intersectional and marginalized writers are topping bestseller lists, Amber Dawn invites her readers to take an unflinching look at what we expect from writers, and from each other.
In The Gospel of Breaking, Jillian Christmas confirms what followers of her performance and artistic curation have long known: there is magic in her words. Befitting someone who "speaks things into being," Christmas extracts from family history, queer lineage, and the political landscape of a racialized life to create a rich, softly defiant collection of poems.
Christmas draws a circle around the things she calls "holy": the family line that cannot find its root but survived to fill the skies with radiant flesh; the body, broken and unbroken and broken and new again; the lover lost, the friend lost, and the loss itself; and the hands that hold them all with brilliant, tender care. Expansive and beautiful, these poems allow readers to swim in Jillian Christmas's mother-tongue and to dream at her shores.
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