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Celebrate Black History and Turn the Page to Black Futures

Engage with powerful memoir and literary excellence with these four poetry, non-fiction and theatre recommendations.

Read Local BC 13 Feb

It’s Black History Month, a time to celebrate and honour the legacy and ongoing contributions of Black people and communities in Canada. To showcase Black creativity and Black literary excellence, Read Local BC is recommending these four new books by B.C. publishers, highlighting varied aspects of Black history, art and lived experiences. Read the excerpts below and find your favourites at your local independent bookstore.

Poetry on farming and abolitionist futures

By Cecily Nicholson

General Literary Award-winning poet Cecily Nicholson’s poetry collection, set mainly in rural areas, connects Black intellectual and art history with agricultural work. The poems include pulses of memoir from the poet’s childhood growing up on a farm, as well as from more recent pandemic experiences volunteering for a local agricultural enterprise led by people who were formerly incarcerated. By way of practical tasks such as sowing, pruning and watering, the poetry advances with love towards abolitionist futures.

Some excerpts:

associatory, simple elements

the store of atmosphere, pounds of water
                            brought as property

            to situate within genealogy
giving backs to land an intellectual and art history

idle moments put
                         to gathering
            to care
                         to share food

to not solely succumb to logics of land/crop/harvest
as required by institutions of slavery and capital

                                carceral and climate do not pull apart in justice

        is a view of the coast across the narrowest reach

all the water inside        movings in tides
like the sea

        an ebb bulges high

                our bare soles warm the soil at planting times

A non-fiction snapshot of Toronto’s racialized present via its political past

Clara at the Door with a Revolver: The Scandalous Black Suspect, the Exemplary White Son and the Murder That Shocked Toronto
By Carolyn Whitzman
(On Point Press, an imprint of UBC Press)

Set in three acts, this story illuminates not only the riveting case of the murder of Frank Westwood in 1894, but also the societal attitudes, gender and race hypocrisy, and the politics of media power in the growing city of Toronto. Carolyn Whitzman tells the compelling story of a courageous Black woman living in 19th-century Toronto and paints a portrait of a city and a society that have not changed enough in 125 years.

An excerpt:

“There are only two facts we can say with certainty about the relationship between Frank Westwood and his accused murderer, Clara Ford. One: this rich white boy and impoverished Black woman were neighbours, for a time, in the Toronto suburb of Parkdale. Two: Frank and Clara didn’t get along.

“Clara’s world was shaped by the rules of the stage she loved. Clara danced the cakewalk with power and elegance. She was ferociously intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny, an introverted performer with a strong sense of the absurdity of her own situation. She was, above all, a survivor.”

Art history on the condition of not (fully) belonging

Making History: Visual Arts and Blackness in Canada
Edited by Julie Crooks, Dominique Fontaine and Silvia Forni
(On Point Press, an imprint of UBC Press, co-published with the Royal Ontario Museum)

Making History is an unprecedented reflection on the positioning of Black history and art within the Canadian cultural landscape. Featuring boundary-breaking artists and others from the art world, Making History brings together poems, artist statements and art portfolios that showcase a careful and thoughtful understanding of Black aesthetics. This beautifully illustrated book also discusses the presence of Black contemporary art in Canadian institutions and offers artistic perspectives on contemporary and historical art practices.

An excerpt:

“The intellectual and political stuckness of repeatedly having to signal that Black people are here in Canada, that Black people are from Canada, that Black people have been in Canada before Canada called itself Canada is a significant problem that not only limits critical dialogues, but also delimits how curatorial and critical practices might produce different worlds of reception for the exhibition. Importantly, the repetition of asserting contradictions that frame Black diasporic life.

“The condition of not (fully) belonging to the imagined national body politic creates circumstances that complicate claims to national stories, myths and institutions. Museums even in their most radical practices remain tethered to producing narratives of and for collective identification and representation, which inevitably fall short in a deeply riven multicultural world.”

— Rinaldo Walcott, from “Why Are There No Famous Black Canadian Artists? Here We Are Here and How Diversity and Inclusion Trump Aesthetic Critique”

Two plays on the white gaze versus Black ‘looking back’

Moving the Centre: Two Plays: Small Axe & Freedom Singer
By Andrew Kushnir and Khari Wendell McClelland

Moving the Centre explores the work of two theatre artists who dare, fumble and persist in bringing audiences into a space where we can all listen differently. Small Axe and Freedom Singer lean into the possibilities of verbatim theatre to approach questions of justice, identity and the complex history all around us.

With an opening essay by Kushnir and a concluding essay by McClelland, the book’s literal centre (between the plays) is a verbatim dialogue where the two discuss the white gaze versus Black “looking back,” theatre-as-a-practice and how centring caring and equitable relationships is what can make this kind of challenging theatre more ethical, more viable and more truthful.

An excerpt:

Khari: Sound of the people like thunder, are speaking
Freemen are coming at Liberty’s call
The pride and the power of the tyrant is breaking
Millions are rising
Millions are rising
Millions are rising from slavery’s thrall

Unfurl the banner and swell the chorus, time to recognize all the ones who opened doors for us.

Khari and chorus: Like Martin and Harriet, waiting for that chariot to carry us home, working for justice in war zones. We still got work to do, reparations overdue for catching hell from the prosperous few. Some people say we’ll get ours in the afterlife, but I’m in love with this life, willing to cut through the strife. Singing like my life depends on it, not for salary, but to be free. If you believe in me like I believe in you and for the whole, not the few: Sound the trumpet for me.

About Read Local BC

Read Local BC is a project of the Association of Book Publishers of BC that celebrates the vibrant community of authors, publishers, bookstores and libraries that make up our province’s literary landscape.

Read Local BC acknowledges the support of: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts, Creative BC and the City of Vancouver.  [Tyee]

Read more: Books, Rights + Justice

This article is part of a Tyee Presents initiative. Tyee Presents is the special sponsored content section within The Tyee where we highlight contests, events and other initiatives that are either put on by us or by our select partners. The Tyee does not and cannot vouch for or endorse products advertised on The Tyee. We choose our partners carefully and consciously, to fit with The Tyee’s reputation as B.C.’s Home for News, Culture and Solutions. Learn more about Tyee Presents here.

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