IN PRAISE OF BLACK VOICES

No­table Cana­dian writ­ers rec­om­mend must-read books that will change the way we see the world,

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT & BOOKS - DEB­O­RAH DUN­DAS BOOKS ED­I­TOR

While we mark Black His­tory Month by hon­our­ing the writ­ers and sto­ries that have come be­fore us, there are plenty of cur­rent sto­ries that need to be read, that need to be heard. Sto­ries that make us look at the world through a dif­fer­ent lens, that urge us to see things in a new way. We asked prom­i­nent Cana­dian writ­ers to rec­om­mend Black voices that we need to read now.

David Char­iandy is the au­thor of the award-win­ning nov­els Brother and Soucouyant and the up­com­ing I’ ve Been Mean­ing to Tell You: A Let­ter To My Daugh­ter.

I’d like to high­light some Black writ­ing re­cently pub­lished in Canada. Even so, it’s dif­fi­cult for me to re­strict my­self to just one “must-read,” since the books pub­lished even just this year ex­hibit a strik­ing di­ver­sity of gen­res, styles, and sub­ject mat­ters. I’d def­i­nitely rec­om­mend check­ing out Polic­ing Black Lives by Robyn May­nard (non-fic­tion, Fern­wood), Voodoo Hy­poth­e­sis by Canisia Lubrin (poetry, Buck­rider) and Our Lady of Per­pet­ual Re­al­ness & Other Sto­ries by Ca­son Sharpe (short fic­tion, Me­ta­tron). I’d also keep your eyes out for two forth­com­ing books al­ready gen­er­at­ing buzz: Dear Cur­rent Oc­cu­pant by Che­lene Knight (non-fic­tion, Book*hug); and Re­pro­duc­tion by Ian Wil­liams (novel, Ran­dom House). Fi­nally, I’m tremen­dously ex­cited that two books by Dionne Brand will be pub­lished si­mul­ta­ne­ously later this year: The­ory (novel); and The Blue Clerk, an ‘Ars Poet­ica’ from one of the most in­spir­ing liv­ing writ­ers.

Cather­ine Her­nan­dez is au­thor of Scar­bor­ough and artis­tic direc­tor of b cur­rent per­form­ing arts, which is ded­i­cated to creat­ing work by and about women of colour.

The book that every­one needs to read or reread now is Oc­tavia But­ler’s Para­ble of the Sower.

It is the dawn of 2018. This book takes place in the 2020s in the wake of en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial dis­as­ter. Sound fa­mil­iar? It should. I am cur­rently writ­ing a novel called Crosshairs about LGBTQ2S and racial­ized folks tak­ing arms against white supremacy in this post-Trump re­al­ity.

Some have de­scribed my work as ‘science fic­tion.’ Not so. Fol­low­ing the foot­steps of But­ler’s ge­nius, I hope to ex­plore a plau­si­ble and im­mi­nent dan­ger, not to men­tion an ac­tual re­al­ity al­ready lived by many around the world. This book was far from fic­tion. It was a map. It was a prophecy. Per­haps now is the time to take the bril­liance of Black storytellers se­ri­ously.

Lawrence Hill is the au­thor of ten books and is work­ing on a new novel about the African-Amer­i­can sol­diers who helped build the Alaska High­way in north­ern B.C. and Yukon dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Many peo­ple and places have been left off Canada’s lit­er­ary map, so it is fab­u­lous to see that two writ­ers helped right that im­bal­ance in 2017. How many nov­els have you read that plumb the ex­pe­ri­ences and ge­og­ra­phy — phys­i­cal and cul­tural — re­lat- ing to Black and other folks in Scar­bor­ough? Ex­actly! So I’m happy to rec­om­mend two nov­els on the sub­ject: Scar­bor­ough, by Cather­ine Her­nan­dez, and Brother by David Char­iandy. Scar­bor­ough (Ar­se­nal Pulp Press) was short­listed for the Toronto Book Award and Brother (McClel­land & Ste­wart) won the Rogers Writ­ers’ Trust Fic­tion Prize.

Canisia Lubrin is a writer, critic, ed­i­tor, teacher and au­thor of Voodoo Hy­poth­e­sis (Buck­rider/ Wol­sak & Wynn).

To that ques­tion of lit­er­a­ture and need, the hand that has touched or longed to touch any­thing re­motely alive, re­mains raised in a prom­is­sory ges­ture. This sen­ti­ment lives large in the work of Toronto-born-Mon­tre- al-based Ca­son Sharpe. His work is mus­cu­lar and flu­idly col­lo­quial rem­i­nis­cent of David Foster Wal­lace, a master of the pro­saic line. Sharpe’s de­but col­lec­tion of short fic­tion, Our Lady of Per­pet­ual Re­al­ness (Me­ta­tron), is mea­sured, some­times despotic in evok­ing ur­ban life, and re­sists re­duc­tive the­atrics of trauma in queer com­mu­ni­ties of colour. Tem­pered with hu­mour and the erotic, his prose pow­er­fully ne­go­ti­ates ideas both con­ver­sa­tional and ir­rev­er­ently philo­soph­i­cal. Sarah Raugh­ley is the au­thor of the Ef­fi­gies se­ries of Young Adult nov­els and is a huge fan­girl of any­thing from manga to scifi/ fan­tasy TV to Ja­panese role-play­ing games.

Birch­town and the Black Loy­al­ists (Nim­bus) by Wanda Lau­ren Tay­lor is an im­por­tant book to put on any read­ing list for el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents. As Cana­di­ans, when we learn of the his­tory of Amer­i­can slav­ery, we of­ten think of Canada as the place slaves es­caped to for free­dom. How­ever, many of us don’t ac­tu­ally learn much about what hap­pened when the first Black Cana­di­ans re­set­tled in Nova Sco­tia. For young readers for whom Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Ne­groes might prove too heavy a read, Tay­lor’s novel works as a great in­tro­duc­tion to the his­tory of Black Canada.

Jael Richard­son is the au­thor of the mem­oir The Stone Thrower (Thomas Allen) and the chil­dren’s book of the same name (pub­lished by Ground­wood) as well as be­ing founder of the Fes­ti­val of Lit­er­ary Di­ver­sity.

When I think of nec­es­sary reads, I think of books that we have waited for — per­haps with­out know­ing — books that en­rich and chal­lenge us as readers and as hu­mans. Brother by David Char­iandy is one of those books. The plot and set­ting are timely, but the writ­ing is also lyri­cal and lovely. It’s this rare com­bi­na­tion that makes Char­iandy’s book a gift to con­sume, a trea­sure to fin­ish, and an ab­so­lute must-read. Brother tells the story of peo­ple we have his­tor­i­cally been over­looked: those on the mar­gins on ac­count of race and class. It pushes their sto­ries into the cen­tre of our lives, de­mand­ing our at­ten­tion long af­ter the fi­nal page has been read.

Ka­rina Ver­non is a pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ment of English at the Univer­sity of Toronto with a spe­cial fo­cus on Black Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture.

There are many books by bril­liant Black Cana­dian au­thors that de­serve to be bet­ter known than they are. Two of my long-time favourites are Cheryl Foggo’s gor­geous mem­oir of grow­ing up Black in Cal­gary in the 1960s, Pourin’ Down Rain (1990, Brush Education), and Ad­dena Sumter Fre­itag’s fierce au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal play, Stay Black & Die (2007, Com­modore Books), about grow­ing up in Win­nipeg’s North End dur­ing the same pe­riod.

I love both books for the ways they lov­ingly rep­re­sent a re­gional Black Cana­dian his­tory and iden­tity — one that has been rooted on the Prairies for gen­er­a­tions — that is too-of­ten over­looked when think­ing about Black Canada.

TRAYC DUD­GEON

Some au­thor rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude Polic­ing Black Lives by Robyn May­nard and Brother by David Char­iandy.

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