Black History Month: Author Spotlight

February 12, 2022

In celebration of Black History Month, we're shining a spotlight on some stellar Black authors (and additional author contributors) to keep your eye out for across genres. 

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Salimah Valiani | Author of  29 leads to love (Inanna Publications)

Salimah Valiani is a poet, an activist and a researcher. She is the author of two collections of poetry-- breathing for breadth (2005) and Letter Out: Letter In (2009). An Associate Researcher with the Centre for the Study of Learning, Social Economy and Work at the University of Toronto, she is also the author of Rethinking Unequal Exchange: The Global Integration of Nursing Labour Markets (2012). In June 2012, she was awarded the Feminist Economics Rhonda Williams Prize, an award recognizing feminist scholarship and activism in the spirit of the African American economist and activist, Rhonda Williams. Her poetry and essays have appeared in a number of Canadian journals and anthologies.

29 leads to loveIn a world barely beginning to recognize itself as dazzlingly multihued, the erupting ecocide is teaching that while no accounting of complexity is complete, change is true and the sky, singular. We are of parts fundamentally interconnected and overlapping. If we choose it, this overlapping can become a continuum. A continuum of movement combined with still-ness, individuality reaching for the whole, loss and surrender, abandon and opening. And of falling: an ever-falling, toward the intensive care that is love.


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David Bradford | Author of  Dream of No One but Myself (Brick Books)

David Bradford is a poet, editor, and organizer based in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). He is the author of several chapbooks, including Nell Zink is Damn Free (Blank Cheque Press, 2017) and The Plot (House House Press, 2018). His work has appeared in The Capilano Review, The Tiny, filling Station, The Fiddlehead, Carte Blanche, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the University of Guelph and is a founding editor of House House Press. Dream of No One but Myself is his first book.

Dream of No One but Myself is an interdisciplinary, lyrical unravelling of the trauma-memoir-as-proof-it's-now-handled motif, illuminating what an auto-archival alternative to it might look like in motion. Through a complex juxtaposition of lyric verse and self-erasure, family keepsake and transformed photo, David Bradford engages the gap between the drive toward self-understanding and the excavated, tangled narratives autobiography can't quite reconcile. The translation of early memory into language is a set of decisions, and in Dream of No One but Myself, Bradford decides and then decides again, composing a deliberately unstable, frayed account of family inheritance, intergenerational traumas, and domestic tenderness.


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Assiyah Jamilla Touré | Author of  Autowar (Brick Books)

Assiyah Jamilla Touré is a multidisciplinary artist of West African descent. They were born and raised on Skwxwú7mesh land and lived for many years in Kanien'kehà:ka territory (Montreal) and are now based on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Wendat (Toronto). In 2018 their chapbook feral was published by House House Press. Autowar is their first full-length collection.

Autowar: A visceral, vital, unblinking debut collection of poems exploring kinesthetic memory and longing, inherited violence, and the body as a geographical site. Assiyah Jamilla Touré's debut collection is a record of those scars not those inflicted on us by the thousands of little wars we live in everyday, but those that come afterwards, those we inflict upon ourselves to mark the path. Each and every poem in Autowar was written on a cell phone, transcribing an urgent revisiting of old sites of pain, and also a revisiting of one young person's power and ability to hurt themself, or others. These poems are powerful evocations of how even our scars have worlds and lives.


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Bertrand Bickersteth | Author of  The Response of Weeds (NeWest Press)

Born in Sierra Leone, Bertrand Bickersteth grew up in Edmonton, Calgary, and Olds, Alberta. After an English degree at UBC, Bertrand continued studying in the U.K. and later taught in the U.S. A return to Alberta provided him with new insights on black identity and most of his writing has been committed to these perspectives ever since. Although he writes in several genres, anticlimactically, the topic is always the same: what does it mean to be black and from the prairies? He has also given many public talks including a TED Talk for BowValleyCollegeTEDx called The Weight of Words. His poetry has appeared in several publications, including most recently The Antigonish Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Fieldstone Review. He has also been published in The Great Black North and the forthcoming anthology The Black Prairie Archives (2020). In 2018, he was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. He lives in Calgary, teaches at Olds College, and writes everywhere.

The Response of Weeds: Bertrand Bickersteth’s debut poetry collection explores what it means to be Black and Albertan through a variety of prisms: historical, biographical, and essentially, geographical. The Response of Weeds offers a much-needed window on often overlooked contributions to the province’s character and provides personal perspectives on the question of Black identity on the prairies. Through these rousing and evocative poems, Bickersteth uses language to call up the contours of the land itself, land that is at once mesmerizing as it is dismissively effacing. Such is Black identity here on this paradoxical land, too.


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Charles C. Smith | Author of  Searching for Eastman (Mawenzi House)

Charles C. Smith is a poet, playwright and performer. He studied poetry and drama at New York City University and Herbert Berghof Studios, and drama at the Frank Silvera's Writers' Workshop in Harlem. His play Last Days for the Desperate won an award from Black Theatre Canada. He has published four books of poetry, including Travelogue of the Bereaved (Mawenzi House), has edited several collections of poetry (including the works of Dionne Brand, Marlene Nourbese Phillips, Claire Harris, Cyril Dabydeen, Lillian Allen, George Elliott Clarke, Clifton Joseph), and his writings have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Poetry Canada ReviewQuill and QuireDescantDandelionFiddleheadAnti-Racism in Education: Missing in Action (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives), Amethyst ReviewBywordsCanadian Ethnic Studies and others. He lives in Toronto.

Searching for Eastman is a multidisciplinary performance in 4 acts, based on the interpretation of four of Julius Eastman's compositions through poetry, theatre, music, dance, video and digital.



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Glynis Guevara | Author of  Under the Zaboca Tree (Inanna Publications)

Glynis Guevara was born in Barataria, Trinidad. She is a graduate of Humber School for Writers Creative Writing Program and holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) degree from the University of London, England. She was also admitted to the bar of England and Wales and Trinidad and Tobago. Glynis was shortlisted for the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature. Her debut YA novel, Under the Zaboca Tree was published by Inanna Publications in 2017. Black Beach is her second novel.

Under the Zaboca Tree: At ten, Melody Sparks, better known as Baby Girl, is excited to move to the tropical island of Trinidad with her single-parent dad, but she silently longs for her mother, a woman she can't recall ever meeting and doesn't have a photo of. She fits in to her new life in Paradise Lane quite well: she loves her school and makes new friends. However, her longing for blood family remains strong. But Baby Girl is suddenly and unexpectedly uprooted from her comfortable life in Paradise Lane by and forced to reside in Flat Hill Village, a depressed, crime-ridden community. She struggles to adjust to life in this village with the help of new friends, Arlie, a village activist and Colm, a young man who mentors her to write poetry. When Baby Girl witnesses a serious crime, her father insists she move in with relatives she doesn't know very well, where she ultimately uncovers the truth about her mother. Under the Zaboca Tree is a contemporary coming of age novel that explores multiple issues including the challenges of being a motherless adolescent, searching for one's identity, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the ability to adapt to difficult situations.



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Perry King | Author of Rebound: Sports, Community, and the Inclusive City (Coach House)

Perry King is an author, freelance journalist, communications strategist, and proud South Parkdale-raised Torontonian. With a literary focus on sports, education and urbanism, Perry has bylines in Spacing Magazinethe Toronto StarGlobe and Mail, BBC and a litany of independent newspapers and magazines.

Rebound: Sports, Community, and the Inclusive City: For every kid who makes it to the NBA, thousands more simply seek out the pleasure and camaraderie of playing pick-up basketball in their local community centre or on a court in the neighbourhood park. It’s a story that plays out in sport after sport — team or individual, youth or adult, men's or women's. While the high-energy spectacle of professional basketball, soccer, or hockey may command our attention and fill our TV screens night after night, the world of grassroots, no- or low-stakes sports hums along in the background, a kind of connective tissue that brings city-dwellers together in ways that go well beyond the most obvious physical benefits.


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Adrienne Shadd, Afua Cooper, Karolyn Smardz Frost | Authors of   THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD  Next Stop, Toronto! (Dundurn Press)

Adrienne Shadd is a consultant, curator, and author, who has been recognized with the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations and the J.C. Holland Award for her research and writing.

Afua Cooper is a multidisciplinary scholar, author, and artist. Her indomitable research on slavery and Black history has made her one of the leading figures in African Canadian studies and the authority on Canadian slavery.

Karolyn Smardz Frost is an archaeologist, historian, and award-winning author. She and her team at the Toronto Board of Education’s Archaeological Resource Centre uncovered the first Underground Railroad site in Canada.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD  Next Stop, Toronto! explores Toronto’s role as a destination for thousands of freedom seekers before the American Civil War. This new edition traces pathways taken by people, enslaved and free, who courageously made the trip north in search of liberty and offers new biographies, images, and information, some of which is augmented by a 2015 archaeological dig in downtown Toronto.Within its pages are stories of courageous men, women, and children who overcame barriers of prejudice and racism to create homes, institutions, and a rich and vibrant community life in Canada’s largest city. These brave individuals established organizations not only to help newcomers but to also oppose the ongoing slavery in the United States and to resist racism in their adopted city. Based entirely on original research, The Underground Railroad offers fresh insights into the rich heritage of African Americans who became African Canadians and helped build Toronto as we know the city today.


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George Elliot Clarke | Author of  The Quest for a 'National' Nationalism (Breakwater Books)

Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, at the beginning of the 1960s, George Elliott Clarke is a seventh-generation Africadian. He has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and prose, including Whylah Falls and Execution Poems, an acclaimed novel George & Rue, and the celebrated opera, Beatrice Chancy. His many awards include the Governor General's Award for poetry and the Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award.

The Quest for a 'National' Nationalism:In his 2018 Pratt Lecture, Clarke investigates E. J. Pratt’s poetic attempt to become the epic poet of Canada. And while Pratt’s epic poems, such as Brebeuf and His Brethren and Towards the Last Spike, stand as lofty poetic achievements, the poet is never able to escape his own identity and speak convincingly for all Canadians. Unable to speak for Francophones, Indigenous peoples, and People of Colour, Pratt becomes the epic poet of the establishment, but never truly of the people.The PRATT LECTURES were established in 1968 to commemorate the legacy of E. J. Pratt. Over the years, the series has hosted a litany of world-renowned authors and scholars, including Northrop Frye, Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, and Dionne Brand.



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Andrea Scott | Author of  Controlled Damage (J.Gordon Shillingford Publishing) 

Andrea Scott is a Toronto playwright and screenwriter. She is the author of Better Angels: A Parable, a two-play collection (Scirocco Drama, 2018,) and co-author (with Nick Green) of Every Day She Rose (Playwrights Canada Press, upcoming, 2022). Controlled Damage was workshopped originally at bcurrent performing arts theatre under the direction of Christopher Manousos in 2018. It was produced by Neptune Theatre in association with bcurrent, and directed by Nigel Shawn Williams in February, 2020. Andrea is the recipient of the Cayle Chernin Award for Theatre.

Controlled Damage explores the life of Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond and how her act of bravery in a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946 started a ripple effect that is still felt today. An ordinary woman forced to be extraordinary by an unyielding and racist world, Desmond never gave up -- despite the personal cost to her and those who loved her. Andrea Scott's highly theatrical examination of Desmond and her legacy traces the impact that she had on our culture, but also casts light on the slow progress of the fight for social justice and civil rights in Canada.


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Marcia Johnson | Author of  Serving Elizabeth (J.Gordon Shillingford Publishing) 

Marcia Johnson is a playwright and actor based in Toronto. Her plays include Serving ElizabethBinti’s Journey, an adaptation of The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis; Courting Johanna, based on Alice Munro’s “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage,” and Late. My Mother’s Ring, a short opera for which she wrote the libretto with composer Stephen A. Taylor, was nominated for a 2009 Dora Mavor Moore Award. Their second collaboration, Paradises Lost, based on the Ursula K. Le Guin novella, had excerpted concert performances by Third Angle Ensemble in Portland, Oregon and at The Gershwin Hotel in New York. Marcia Johnson is a core member of Got Your Back Canada and is a juror/dramaturg for Ergo Pink Fest, supporting, developing and showcasing the works of women and playwrights of marginalized genders.

Serving Elizabeth begins in Kenya in 1952, during the fateful royal visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Mercy, a restaurant owner, is approached to cook for the royal couple. As a staunch anti-monarchist, how can she take the job? Decades later, Tia, a Kenyan-Canadian film student interning in the London office of a production company doing a series about Queen Elizabeth, discovers that there may be more to the story of the royal visit than we have been led to believe. Although she’s been a fan of princesses all her life, Tia learns that fairy tales and real life are very different things.Serving Elizabeth is a funny, fresh, and topical play about colonialism, monarchy, and who is serving whom — or what.




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