PRISMATIC ARTS FES­TI­VAL

This week’s other ma­jor cul­tural hap­pen­ing thrills with a new Shahin Sayadi play, the launch of Shauntay Grant’s lat­est book and more.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRAN­DON YOUNG

Africville launch Thurs­day, Septem­ber 13, 11am Africville Mu­seum, 5795 Africville Road Word on the Street read­ing Satur­day, Septem­ber 15, 11am Hal­i­fax Cen­tral Li­brary, 5440 Spring Gar­den Road, Lind­say Room (se­cond floor)

Home takes on dif­fer­ent mean­ings for ev­ery­one, but for Shauntay Grant, it comes in the form of her lat­est chil­dren’s book,

Africville. The book takes a po­et­i­cally nos­tal­gic look at the Black Nova Sco­tian com­mu­nity, and will launch dur­ing the Prismatic Arts Fes­ti­val. Grant’s read­ing takes place at the Africville Mu­seum—a true home­com­ing.

“It’s been a real gift be­ing able to take a story like Africville’s and trans­late it into a work for tod­dlers and young chil­dren,” says Grant about her 32-page pic­ture book. Beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions by artist Eva Camp­bell ac­com­pany the au­thor’s wist­ful and imag­i­na­tive words that take read­ers on a jour­ney through the van­ished neigh­bour­hood.

As well as the il­lus­trated story, at the end of the book is a page of in­for­ma­tion about Africville to bring older read­ers up to speed on this sad chap­ter of Hal­i­fax his­tory. Africville res­i­dents paid city taxes, but lived without run­ning wa­ter, paved roads and other ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties. Mak­ing mat­ters worse, the city put a slaugh­ter­house, a hos­pi­tal for in­fec­tious dis­ease and a garbage dump nearby. In the 1960s, the city de­mol­ished this vi­brant Black com­mu­nity that had ex­isted for over 150 years, scat­ter­ing many res­i­dents into public hous­ing, yet Africville was never for­got­ten.

Pub­lished by House of Anansi, the story of Africville fol­lows a young girl as she vis­its the for­mer site, which was named a Na­tional His­toric Site in 2002. While there, sto­ries she’s heard from fam­ily mem­bers be­gin to ru­mi­nate. Im­ages of brightly coloured homes, ponds, vast fields and huge bon­fires fill her head with the beauty of the tight-knit com­mu­nity. Fol­low­ing her day­dream, she vis­its the present-day park and cel­e­brates at the an­nual Africville Re­union Fes­ti­val with friends and fam­ily.

Al­though the story is deeply con­nected to the African Nova Sco­tian com­mu­nity, Grant says it is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a univer­sal con­cept she be­lieves ev­ery­one can re­late to: “In writ­ing Africville I wanted to in­voke that feel­ing of home for read­ers. No mat­ter where they’re from, I wanted any­one who picks up the book to feel a sense of home while learn­ing about the com­mu­nity in the process.”

Hav­ing pub­lished var­i­ous chil­dren’s books since 2008 (most no­tably Up Home), Grant says the process of cre­at­ing her lat­est re­lease has been noth­ing short of amaz­ing.

“The poem that is the ba­sis for this book is truly a gift,” says Grant about the in­spi­ra­tion that she re­ceived dur­ing many writ­ing trips to the for­mer site. “Africville to­day is very dif­fer­ent from the Africville de­scribed in old city im­ages,” she says. “But draw­ing on re­sources, which for me was writ­ing on the land and talk­ing to for­mer res­i­dents as con­sul­tants for the project, made it a bet­ter book.”

Her ef­forts have paid off in a beau­ti­fully com­posed work of art rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a lon­glost com­mu­nity once home to so many. Af­ter this week’s launch, Grant has a busy month ahead of her that in­cludes a read­ing of her book at Word on the Street (Septem­ber 15), as well as a se­ries of pub­lic­ity events in Toronto in­clud­ing school vis­its and com­mu­nity events.

As for what she hopes read­ers both young and old, near and far, take away from her book, Grant wants them re­ceive new knowl­edge while feel­ing a sense of fa­mil­iar­ity. “I’m open and wel­come to what­ever peo­ple draw from the story, but I think that feel­ing of home was cen­tral in craft­ing the story,” she says. “So if read­ers can walk away with that feel­ing and learn some­thing about Africville, then I’d be happy about that.”

SHYRONN SMARDON

“The poem that is the ba­sis for this book is truly a gift,” says Shauntay Grant.

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