Go to enough Toronto literary events and you start to notice a recurring pattern. It’s usually at a bar, there’s a PWYC jar half-full of loose change and crumpled fives, and everything is late. If the Facebook/Patchy Squirrel event listing says 7:00pm, a crowd only starts to show around 7:30pm, and the actual readings may start as late as 8:00pm. That’s how my expectations were set up when attending my first DRAFT reading.
On a cool Sunday afternoon, I walked into the Red Sandcastle Theatre, the newest DRAFT venue, exactly on time, and had an eyebrow-raise at the third of the seats already filled with chattering attendees. Maria and Julia, members of the DRAFT Collective, were managing a book table, stacked with books readers had brought to sell, the PWYC jar, and 30 chapbooks, titled DRAFT, a compilation of work from every reader. Beer was noticeably absent.
Barely 15 minutes later, the little theatre space was packed with the usual cliques you find in any reading series, friends/fam of the organizers and readers and the group that all good literary events eventually grow: the regulars.
April L. Ford, started the DRAFT with a narrative essay, “The Rag”, on the filthiness of growing up. She hit hard with the gritty of her high school relationship with a 30-year old man who owns a rag which grows encrusted with patches of oil swipes and pickings between teeth as their relationship deteriorates. Sharon Kirsch, was next offering a great snacky writ on the absence of family.
Sheila Murray offered a touching preview from her novel, of a man arriving in Africville, the lost town of African-Canadians in Nova Scotia, where kids celebrated a birthday with the last few cokes the only town’s convenience store has. After a break, Jason Paradiso, a former co-editor at Descant, ended the day with a particular style of poetry made up of sentences cut-up from magazines and rejigged into a breath of some speculative flyby. In the corner of the seats where I sat, his wife sat rocking the portable crib holding their new baby.
There is a lot about DRAFT that does right. A book table, usually reserved for press or author launches, is always appreciated, giving readers a chance to sell their work. Where the DRAFT takes it further is the reading series exclusive chapbook/zine, adding a sense of community by offering a physical piece of the reading series to the audience. It creates that community of writers and readers that every literary organizer wishes will eventually happen.
This may not be the sole reason for DRAFT’s continued success (now in its 10th year and counting) but given that it boasts a hefty alumni list of some well-known writers, including Lillian Allen and bill bissett, DRAFT is doing something right. Unlike its namesake, DRAFT is as refined as the best of any reading series. That people show up on time is enough said.