Happy Black History Month people! Throughout the month, I will be interviewing Black Authors based in Canada and highlighting Black Canadian writers. To kickstart this celebration of Black history, I'm sharing a list of 5 books by Black Canadian writers that are on my Wishlist this year.
Top Left to Right: Jael Richardson, Canisia Lubrin, Zalika Reid-Benta
Bottom Left to Right: Ian Williams, Dionne Brand
(Sue's Stokvel does not own any of these photos)
Frying Plantain, 2019
Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle — of her Canadian nationality and her desire to be a “true” Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lessons, of having to avoid being thought of as too “faas” or too “quiet” or too “bold” or too “soft.” Set in “Little Jamaica,” Toronto’s Eglinton West neighbourhood, Kara moves from girlhood to the threshold of adulthood, from elementary school to high school graduation, in these twelve interconnected stories. We see her on a visit to Jamaica, startled by the sight of a severed pig’s head in her great aunt’s freezer; in junior high, the victim of a devastating prank by her closest friends; and as a teenager in and out of her grandmother’s house, trying to cope with the ongoing battles between her unyielding grandparents.
A rich and unforgettable portrait of growing up between worlds, Frying Plantain shows how, in one charged moment, friendship and love can turn to enmity and hate, well-meaning protection can become control, and teasing play can turn to something much darker. In her brilliantly incisive debut, Zalika Reid-Benta artfully depicts the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation Canadians and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominately white society.
Gutter Child, 2021
Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government.
But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all. Richardson’s Gutter Child reveals one young woman’s journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny.
Word Problems, 2020
Frustrated by how tough the issues of our time are to solve – racial inequality, our pernicious depression, the troubled relationships we have with other people – Ian Williams revisits the seemingly simple questions of grade school for inspiration: if Billy has five nickels and Jane has three dimes, how many Black men will be murdered by police? He finds no satisfaction, realizing that maybe there are no easy answers to ineffable questions.
Williams uses his characteristic inventiveness to find not just new answers but new questions, reconsidering what poetry can be, using math and grammar lessons to shape poems that invite us to participate. Two long poems cut through the text like vibrating bass notes, curiosities circle endlessly, and microaggressions spin into lyric. And all done with a light touch and a joyful sense of humour.
The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos, 2018
On a lonely wharf a clerk in an ink blue coat inspects bales and bales of paper that hold a poet's accumulated left-hand pages--the unwritten, the withheld, the unexpressed, the withdrawn, the restrained. In The Blue Clerk, award-winning poet Dionne Brand stages a conversation and an argument between the poet and the Blue Clerk, who is the keeper of the poet's pages. In their dialogues--which take shape as a series of haunting prose poems--the poet and the clerk invoke a host of writers, philosophers, and artists, from Jacob Lawrence, Lola Keipja, and Walter Benjamin to John Coltrane, Josephine Turalba, and Jorge Luis Borges. Through these essay poems, Brand explores memory, language, culture, and time, offering beautiful and jarring juxtapositions ("The Wire is the latest version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"), and endlessly haunting language ("On a road like this you don't know where you are. Whether you have arrived or whether you are still on your way. Whether you are still at the beginning or at the end. You are in the middle all the time. What would be the sign?").
An essential observer and one of the most accomplished poets writing today, Dionne Brand's latest engages intimately with the act and difficulty of writing, the relationship between the author and the world, and the relationship between the author and art. Profound, moving, and wise in equal parts, The Blue Clerk is a work of staggering intellect and imagination, and a truly sublime piece of writing from one of Canada's most renowned, honoured, and bestselling poets.
The Dyzgraphxst, 2021
The Dyzgraphxst presents seven inquiries into selfhood through the perennial figure Jejune. Polyvocal in register, the book moves to mine meanings of kinship through the wide and intimate reach of language across geographies and generations. Against the contemporary backdrop of intensified capitalist fascism, toxic nationalism, and climate disaster, the figure Jejune asks, how have I come to make home out of unrecognizability. Marked by and through diasporic life, Jejune declares, I was not myself. I am not myself. My self resembles something having nothing to do with me.