Kristyn Dunnion joins us in the Indie Reading Room with her latest Stoop City (Biblioasis), a collection of stories that’s at once dark and funny and wholly absorbing about a gentrifying west-Toronto neighbourhood and a cast of characters down on their luck. Read on for our Q&A with Kristyn about how the stories in her collection are rooted in her experiences working in the community mental health sector, how the paranormal plays a role in her work, and about the badass cover of her book. Then, head over to the ALU Instagram for Kristyn’s reading from Stoop City. Bonus: get 20% off Stoop City right here on All Lit Up with promo code READINGROOM until November 5th!Photo credit Tanja Tiziana
All Lit Up: Tell us a little about your book and how it came to be. Kristyn Dunnion: Stoop City explores the impact of gentrification on a west-Toronto neighbourhood, and celebrates resilience, joy and autonomy with a fractious cast of characters who, for the most part, do not perform capitalism well. Linked stories mean that throughout these stand-alone pieces, you catch glimpses of characters from different angles, at various times in their lives, and in radically divergent circumstances. Urban realism and deep magic are equally at work in Stoop City, which I’ve been crafting and revising for several years. I’m paying particular attention to language, imagery and storytelling as performance in this work.
ALU: What, outside of literature, inspires and informs your work?
KD: I’m inspired by the world at large, as well as my micro-neighbourhood and its inhabitants. Music, fashion, art and politics infiltrate my work. More specifically, my writing is informed by two decades of working in the community mental health sector, doing street outreach, housing support, and healthy food advocacy in Toronto’s west end. When I write about police brutality in “Affliction: The Taming of Bloor West West,” for example, it’s based on years of witnessing and supporting people who are experiencing mental health crises in their interactions with police. “Asset Mapping in Stoop City” explores the neighbourhood from a sex worker’s point of view, and is dedicated to the memory of Wendy Babcock, who was a friend, and an energetic champion for sex workers’ rights to safe, fair and equitable work.
ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?KD: The paranormal. Since childhood, I’ve been visited by ghosts! This inspired “Now Is the Time to Light Fires,” a story about a woman whose dead girlfriend moves back into their apartment, resuming a fraught relationship. I integrated an ancient springtime ritual honouring Marzana, the Slavic Goddess of Winter, Plague and Death, a transformation to release the narrator from her profound grief.ALU: What’s a book you recently read that you would recommend?KD: Heartland, Ana Simo’s debut novel written in her early 70’s, published by Restless Books in 2018; the enchanted poetry and life’s work of Cape Breton-born Don Domanski who, I’m saddened to say, died in September 2020. ALU: Tell us about the cover design of your book.KD: I wanted artist Sybil Lamb to do the cover illustration, and Biblioasis was excited to make that happen. She read a few of the stories and quickly had incredible sketches to choose from. Stoop City’s cover features Jan and Saffy, anarcho-punks from “Oort Cloud Gets A Makeover.” It’s as though Sybil pulled them from my cranium with a fine pair of tweezers! ALU: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.KD: I played bass in dykemetal band Heavy Filth and with rock-n-roll heartthrobs, Bone Donor.
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Kristyn Dunnion grew up in Essex County, the southernmost tip of Canada, and now lives in Toronto. She is the author of six books, including Tarry This Night and The Dirt Chronicles, a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her short fiction is widely published, most recently in Best Canadian Stories 2020, Foglifter, Orca: A Literary Journal, and Toronto 2033. Dunnion works supporting homeless adults with serious mental illness, and has been a healthy food advocate for marginalized communities in Davenport-Perth, where she resides.