Friday, March 14, 2014

On The Grid, ROM Edition

Grid Contributor Profile March 13-19, 2014
Source: The Grid, March 13-19, 2014.
If you pick up a copy of The Grid this week, not only will you find this profile, you'll also read the infographic I wrote to mark the Royal Ontario Museum's centennial. I do not take responsibility for any write-in campaigns supporting the inanimate carbon rod for mayor of Toronto.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Presentation Time: Writing About History

Last Friday (March 7), I gave a lunchtime presentation on writing about Toronto history at the Arts & Letters Club. The following is the text of my talk:

Canadian Authors Dinner at the Arts & Letters Club, 1930s. Photo by George W. Latta. Toronto Public Library - see their website for a larger version.
Looking up “history” in my desk dictionary, the first meaning listed was “tale, story.” It’s a meaning sometimes lost when people discuss history. To some, our past is little more than facts and statistics. That’s fine under certain circumstances—compiling appendices for a larger work, refuting the claims of politicians, cramming for trivia night. But having piles of factoids and numbers lodged in your head isn’t helpful without the contextual stories behind that data.

There was a point in my writing career where I fretted about being called out by online commenters who harped on minor facts I overlooked in an article, or nitpicked about obscure details. My girlfriend at the time, who often proofread my work, asked who I was really writing for: the nitpickers, who will complain regardless of what I write, or the wider audience, who is more compelled by colourful stories and engaging storytelling? The answer was the latter. She knew that while historical accuracy is important, so is finding resonances with readers.