By Chloe Cook
February is Black History Month, and there’s no time like the present to start reading some of Canada’s most celebrated black authors.
Dionne Brand is an award winning poet, novelist and documentarian. Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1953, Brand moved to Canada after high school to attend the University of Toronto. In 2017, she was admitted to the Order of Canada. Brand is also an outspoken activist for women’s and immigrant issues in Canada.
Dionne Brand’s must read: What We All Long For. This is a story of a group of friends who are learning to balance the difficulties that young adulthood and life throw their way. Based in Toronto, this novel shares stories of people from all different backgrounds and shows a true representation of Toronto’s diversity.
Esi Edugyan is a black fiction novelist from Alberta, Canada. She wrote her first book, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, which gained critical acclaim at just 24-years-old. She often writes about the black experience from a historical perspective, showing that the themes from yesterday still hold true today.
Esi Edugyan’s must read: Washington Black. In the latest novel by Edugyan, Washington Black is an 11 year old boy who is born and raised on a plantation in Barbados until his master’s brother chooses him to become his personal manservant. Washington Black explores the complexities of relationships and freedom in this deeply moving tale.
Dany Laferrière is a French Canadian author whose many literary works have garnered a lot of attention throughout the years. He was born in Haiti and moved to Canada in 1978 where he began a career as a journalist. Shortly thereafter, he made the jump into fiction writing in 1985. While his works are written in French, they are mostly all translated into English for us anglophones to enjoy.
Dany Laferrière’s must read: How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. Published in 1985, this novel launched Laferrière’s career. Provocative, witty and charming, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, gives a biting look into the life of a Black man living in Montreal.
Lawrence Hill is a wildly popular novelist from Newmarket, Ont. In his youth, Hill sought to be an Olympic athlete but turned to writing as a teenager. He started his career in journalism and eventually became the parliamentary bureau chief for a newspaper in Ottawa where he covered Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court before moving to Spain to write fiction full time.
Lawrence Hill’s must read: The Book of Negroes. Easily Hill’s most popular book, The Book of Negroes tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a young woman who escapes her slave owner after being abducted from her village. She goes on to work for the British Army, creating The Book of Negroes, a ledger with all of the names of slaves that were freed by the British side during the Revolutionary War. The Book of Negroes is a real document that can been seen in the National Archives in London, England.
André Alexis has gained a lot of buzz recently for his fictional works. He was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1957 and moved to Ottawa where he started a career in theatre. Throughout his stage career and up until present day, he wrote novels and short stories. Alexis now lives in Toronto where he continues writing while also teaching english and creative writing at the University of Toronto.
André Alexis’ must read: Fifteen Dogs. This follows the story of 15 dogs who are given human consciousness after Greek gods, Hermes and Apollo, make a wager in a Toronto bar one night. Fifteen Dogs studies the human condition and its many complexities as the dogs adapt to their newfound capabilities. Make sure to keep an eye out for all of the Toronto landmarks named in this novel, too!