Catherine Hernandez, Artistic Director & Author

Catherine Hernandez is the Scarborough, Ont-based artistic director of B Current Performing Arts and author of the must-read, award-winning novel Scarborough. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Ishani Nath

Catherine Hernandez wears red tank top and statement beaded necklace, with flower tattoo on her arm

Catherine Hernandez; @theloudlady


What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

My first gig out of theatre school was for a musical that supposedly celebrated Canada’s diversity. It was painful, being a racialized person in a show written by people of privilege that glorified Canada’s immigration policies. But I was desperate for the money and it helped fuel this fire inside of me to write my own stories.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

While still working as a home daycare provider, I submitted a very short version of my novel, Scarborough, to Diaspora Dialogues in the hopes of being part of their long-form mentorship program. Natalie Kertes, who ran the mentorship program at that time, called me and told me, “Bad news is that the jury did not accept your manuscript. Good news is that it’s because they all feel you don’t need the mentorship. This is ready to be published.” I was floored. I still needed guidance in the art of writing a novel, so I sought out mentorship from the late Jim Wong-Chu. He, along with renowned playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, helped me edit my first manuscript and eventually signed with Arsenal Pulp Press.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Your creations are not about you. You are simply a conduit to the whispers of the universe and your ancestors. When you put pen to paper and you finally submit to the idea that it is not about your brilliance and ego, then the truth can come forth. This will allow you to fail brilliantly. This will allow you to open to possibilities, to feedback and humility.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“When you deliver your lines to the camera, one tip is to open wide those Asian eyes of yours.”

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do to bring yourself back up again?

While finishing my next novel, Crosshairs, my strategy is to write until I am overwhelmed with symptoms of imposter syndrome. Then I read books to collect evidence I can in fact do this author thing, then I write again. It reminds me of my thought process when I was enduring a 51-hour at-home labour. I kept thinking to myself, “People have popped out babies for thousands of years. I can handle this.” Only, this is a book baby.

Who are your three favourite social media follows from your industry? What do you love about them?

Alicia Elliott is fearless in calling out of rape culture and racism in CanLit. Her voice is a much-needed one, and as someone who wants to be her ally, I try and share her material as much as possible.

I can’t help being incredibly proud of the space Amanda Parris is taking up in Canadian media right now. She is a brilliant writer and host. I wish her the moon and the stars and everything in between. 

Jen Sookfong Lee’s humour about the absurdities of being a racialized woman in CanLit keeps me going. She is milk-spraying-out-your-nose level funny.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

As with many industries, Canlit is under the impression that representation is inclusivity. In order to progress, the industry must engage in ongoing learning of Anti-Oppression and then put that learning into action. Representation is such a tiny piece of the puzzle. I am asking, I am demanding for us all to dig deeper into what biases we posses and what true allyship means.

Do you think you earn a similar wage as your male counterparts in your industry?

No.

Have you ever disclosed your salary to a colleague in the name of transparency? Why or why not?

Yes. I do so regularly because it’s discretions like those that keep misogyny in the workplace alive.

Have you ever asked for a raise? If so, how did you phrase it and did you get it? If not, why not?

Due to my internalized misogyny, I work regularly to battle the voice within that says, “I am not worthy of this money. My work is not valuable.” Part of my training out of this is to ground my feet and speak loud enough that I can hear myself. I send [potential clients] a link to my web page that clearly outlines my pay expectations.

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