5 Black Canadian authors you should be reading right now

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

Photo courtesy Pearl Pirie/Flickr

Photo courtesy Pearl Pirie/Flickr

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

Photo courtesy Daniel Harasymchuk/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Daniel Harasymchuk/Wikimedia Commons

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

Photo courtesy Nemo Perier Stefanovitch/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Nemo Perier Stefanovitch/Wikimedia Commons

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

Photo courtesy Nigel Dickson/Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Nigel Dickson/Wikimedia Commons

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

Photo courtesy vabookfest via Instagram

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!

Rachel Rawlins: painting a passion

By: Madi Wong

Toronto artist and illustrator, Rachel Natalie Rawlins (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Toronto artist and illustrator, Rachel Natalie Rawlins (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Rachel Natalie Rawlins is a Toronto artist and illustrator who brings life to music and her muses with her paintbrush.

Inspired heavily by photography and music, Rawlins has created many unique portraits of singers and other pop culture figures.

She says that collecting ideas through photographs is similar to someone covering a song today that came out in the ‘80s. The cover is out of love for the song and a desire to interpret it in their own way.

“Different songs can evoke for me a certain mood, vibe, memory and even colour. I am inspired to visually represent what I hear and feel, to make my painting move,” Rawlins says.

“I get inspired by the mood of the subjects in photographs, the contrast, and the angles at which they are taken, to tell that story in my own way,” she says .

Rawlins is currently working on a series that strays away from her usual portraits of people: she’s turned her focus to animals.

“I love the magic and the beauty of the animals in the wild like the lions and the giraffe,” she says. “The theme will be the title of soca songs … the one that I started is of elephants and the title is Stampede,” she explains.

Rawlins holding her painting of Andre 3000, an artist, musician and actor (CanCulture/Madi Wong).

Rawlins holding her painting of Andre 3000, an artist, musician and actor (CanCulture/Madi Wong).

Growing up

Rawlins found her passion for art as a teenager. While attending high school in Scarborough, Ont., she decided to pursue art as a career.

“I realized work was like a job if you didn’t enjoy it. But if you do enjoy it, it’s more like a feeling of accomplishment,” she says.

This decision led her to take a two year digital media arts program at Seneca College, where she was able to learn different artistic techniques, figure drawing, and even to sketch with her non-dominant hand.

Creative Beginnings

“It’s just in me to be an artist, by nature,” she says.

“I have always loved to draw, and from that came a love for painting. I love to see how a concept that I imagine turns out in real life. I also love seeing the ways that different artists interpret the same general idea. I love to see shapes, line work, and colours move and vibrate to draw you in, remind you of something, or make you feel a certain way.”

Michael Jackson and Mos Def, artist and actor (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Michael Jackson and Mos Def, artist and actor (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

On labels

Though she doesn’t care for labels, Rawlins says, “I do identify as a black woman artist. I am an artist who is black, [and] a woman of West Indian heritage, and loves music. And all of those things contribute to and show up in how I am inspired and tell my story artistically,” Rawlins says.

Artistic journey

Rawlins’ first big show was in 2010 for the “From the Soul” exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Rawlins created a unique set of three paintings that portrayed the same woman wearing headphones. Each of the three paintings portrayed a different emotion.

 

BlameItOnTheBoogie-1.jpg
Rawlins’ ‘From the Soul’ set, (from left to right) ‘Blame It On The Boogie,’ ‘Rhythms In The Sun,’ and ‘Innervisions: Songs Of Freedom.’ (via  http://www.rachelnatalie.ca/paintings )

Rawlins’ ‘From the Soul’ set, (from left to right) ‘Blame It On The Boogie,’ ‘Rhythms In The Sun,’ and ‘Innervisions: Songs Of Freedom.’ (via http://www.rachelnatalie.ca/paintings)

InnervisionsSongsOfFreedom-1.jpg

She has participated in multiple art shows and galleries where she showcases her pieces alongside of other artists.

“I love the feeling of accomplishment after I have completed a piece … and that other people also love and want my work,” she says.

In the past, Rawlins has also given back to the community by teaching art classes for kids. She believes that arts are very important in learning, especially for young children.

Her work is promoted online and on social media, as well as online sites such as Fine Art America that have enabled her to sell her pieces as mini prints and other accessories.

Rawlins’ painting of singer-songwriter Erykah Badu  (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Rawlins’ painting of singer-songwriter Erykah Badu  (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Painting of pianist Chloe Flower (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

Painting of pianist Chloe Flower (CanCulture/Madi Wong)

The best part

Rawlins’ favourite part about her work is seeing and feeling a piece come together.

“I always begin with black. And once the black is there I am more excited to continue, adding other colours and, in some cases, building texture. I also love stepping back and looking at my progress before I fill in the background of a piece,” she explains, “Depending on what my subject is at the time, it can look as though it will walk right off of the canvas.”

This piece was edited by Jacklyn Gilmor.