Word on the Street author Catherine Hernandez

Award-winning Scarborough author Catherine Hernandez to appear at The Word on the Street

“When you’re from Scarborough you are taught that good things are not for you. Stability is not for you,” said award-winning author Catherine Hernandez, who appears at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival running June 11-12 at Queen’s Park.

Hernandez went on to beat the odds — and then some. Her ambitious debut novel, Scarborough, was published in 2017, to a deluge of rave reviews (Broken Pencil called it a “crucial book for Toronto, and Popmatters.com said it was “storytelling at its finest.”).

‘I always knew I was a storyteller” said Hernandez. “My mother was a pioneer of Filipino folk dance education here in Canada, and I was taught since I was small that as people of a diaspora, it was important for us to share our stories to keep our culture alive.”

Written during a time “of such financial precarity and emotional strain,” Scarborough is based on Hernandez’ own life experience running a home daycare. Narrated by a multitude of characters both adult and children, it tells the story of a  culturally diverse and troubled community under fire, suffering from the weight of poverty, drugs, crime and urban blight. But it also offers an empathetic glimpse into a neighbourhood that refuses to be broken or left behind.

The book – which still remains on the bestseller list in Canada, shot Hernandez to literary fame, which is unsurprising considering the numerous accolades it went on to receive, including the Jim Wong-Chu Award for the unpublished manuscript; shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards, the Edmund White Award, and the Trillium Book Award; and a finalist for Canada Reads 2022.

There was also a film adaptation shot and set in the West Hill neighbourhood of Scarborough, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021. Hernandez penned the screenplay and says she was heavily involved in the process.

“I tried to be as present as possible to support the team in any way they needed. But I didn’t want to control the process,” she said. “I wanted them to have agency in how the story was going to be told. I trusted them all to make magic.”

At once both heartbreaking and hopeful, the film was a sensation upon its release, winning eight Canadian Screen Awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Hernandez is also a seasoned playwright, children’s author, and podcaster. Her highly anticipated third novel is set to be released in 2023, and she’s busy working on her fourth. Television projects are also on the horizon.

She’s set to appear at Toronto’s open-air book and magazine festival,  The Word on the Street taking place June 11-12. She’ll be joined by esteemed authors including Montreal novelist Heather O’Neil, First Nations Canadian Arts Journalist Jesse Wente, and Toronto-based writer Robyn Maynard.

“Lit fests are important as a connection between authors and readers. It is at fests where I can read live, listen to readers’ questions, and most importantly, listen to other authors do their thing,” she said. “It’s [also] imperative that fests make bold choices around diversity and inclusion, from their leadership to their board of directors, their volunteers to the authors they showcase.”

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