Black History Month is an opportunity for us to reflect on the incredible Black writers we have across the country, writing for all kinds of literary genres. We kick off the month and our Black Writers’ Series with a look at four fantastic fiction writers, with a feature title for each.
The writer: Austin ClarkeThe late Austin Clarke (1934 – 2016) was one of Canada’s foremost authors, whose work includes 10 novels, six short-story collections, three memoirs, and two collections of poetry. He worked as a journalist, a professor, and a cultural attaché in Washington D.C., while publishing acclaimed fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.The book: The Polished Hoe (Dundurn Press)Winning the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Trillium Book Award when it was first published in 2002, Austin Clarke’s masterpiece The Polished Hoe reckons with issues of post-colonialism and generational trauma stemming from slavery. Set in the early 1950s on the West Indian island of Bimshire, the novel manages to be sweeping in its scope and critique of colonial structures while limiting its narrative to a single day in a woman’s life, that of the protagonist, Mary Mathilda. This new edition contains a foreword by Rinaldo Walcott and introduces The Polished Hoe to a new generation of readers.
The writer: Chelene KnightChelene Knight is the author of Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award, and long-listed for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail, the Walrus, and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making Room, Love Me True, Sustenance, The Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter, winner of the 2020 Saskatchewan Book Award. Her poem, “Welwitschia” won the 2020 CV2 Editor’s Choice award. She was shortlisted for PRISM‘s 2021 short forms contest.Knight was the previous managing editor at Room magazine, and the previous festival director for the Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She has also worked as a professor of poetry at the University of Toronto. Chelene is now founder of her own literary studio, Breathing Space Creative, through which she’s launched The Forever Writers Club, a membership for writers focused on creative sustainability. Chelene works as a literary agent with the Transatlantic Agency.The book: Junie (Book*hug Press)Set in Hogan’s Alley, a vibrant, predominantly Black and immigrant neighbourhood in Vancouver in the 1930s, the titular character Junie finds new community connections even as her own relationship with her mother grows difficult. Says Knight of the neighbourhood: “It was a place where a strong sense of community was an important prerequisite.” Despite the tragic end of Hogan’s Alley, Junie celebrates the Black and marginalized voices that it contained, and the life of a woman who is growing into her own potential.
The writer: Suzette MayrSuzette Mayr was born and raised in Calgary, where she graduated from the University of Calgary with an honors degree in English. After completing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Alberta, she returned to Calgary where she now teaches at the Alberta College of Art. She is the winner of the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Sleeping Car Porter. The book: Moon Honey (NeWest Press)It’s likely you’ve heard by now of Suzette Mayr’s stunning historical novel, the Giller-winning The Sleeping Car Porter. We recommend starting at the very beginning of this incredible writer’s career with Moon Honey, her first novel, about a white, straight couple whose dynamics change when Carmen turns into a Black woman. Griffin, her fiancé, is initially titillated by the change; but his racist mother has other ideas. Moon Honey features Mayr’s signature humour and grapples with identity, microaggressions, and all of the thorny, tangled webs of love people weave.
The writer: Tanya TurtonTanya Turton is a storyteller, educator, and mental health advocate. She fell in love with storytelling when she began to feel displaced in her own world and found creative writing. Hailing from Jamaica, Tanya was raised and lives in Toronto. Jade Is a Twisted Green is her debut novel. The book: Jade is a Twisted Green (Dundurn Press)A queer coming-of-age story, a meditation on grief, and a love letter to the city of Toronto all at once, Tanya Turton’s debut novel Jade is a Twisted Green has been called “bold, meaningful and moving” (Junauda Petrus-Nasah). White the novel deals with heavy themes – like the main character Jade’s loss of her twin sister – it manages to be hilarious and vibrant, letting all of Jade’s personality and sticktoitiveness shine through as she turns 25.
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Stay tuned for next week, when the Black Writers’ Series spotlight will shine on poets.