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Shaping and redefining Canadian writing: A celebration of Black Canadian authors

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With the month of February drawing to a close, Black History Month comes to an end as well. Many see this celebration as an amends to the past, applauding those courageous leaders who marked political moments and defiant changes in our world; however, it is those who believe that racism has passed that continue to perpetuate it. Ignorance, hate and racism still plague every form of life, both in and outside of Canada, whether at the hands of systematic implementation or in its completely banal and idiotic forms.

To celebrate and continue the fights, we at rabble.ca celebrate those talented and critically-minded authors whose groundbreaking works shaped the Canadian landscape of writing or those who continue to inform and expand that landscape. Below is by no means a comprehensive listing of the powerful Black writers who inspire Canadian writing, but a few whose writings, styles and genres infuse cultural traditions, lived experiences and authentic language into an array of significant works.

Enjoy our list and please feel free to add any and all other authors below!

Lillian Allen
"Remember your strength sister/And remember your joys/Remember you're whole sister/And you're not alone"
-- Lillian Allen, Sister Hold On, Conditions Critical, 1987

Lillian Allen is Canada's preeminent dub poet and a celebrated writer, using alternative and varying forms of media, including reggae recordings, books of poetry and plays, to express progressive and critical opinions on social and political issues. Allen's recordings Revolutionary Tea Party and Conditions Critical won Juno Awards in 1986 and 1988, respectively, and proved to solidify Allen as a pioneer for dub poetry and groundbreaker for women in the field.

Notable Works
Revolutionary Tea Party (1986)
Conditions Critical (1988)

Malcolm Azania

Malcolm Azania, or Minister Faust, is a writer and community activist who uses his gift for satire and political writing to craft intricate stories about self-help, faith and pop culture. Azania adds fresh appeal to his writing by creating these stories within the science-fiction world, channelling them with absurdities and magic and the always stylish backdrop of Edmonton, Alberta. He is celebrated as a gifted writer with his talent in facing his criticisms of plot by introducing them into his characters, making them privy to and aware of the information that has created them.

Notable Works
The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (2004)
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain (2007)

Lawrence Braithwaite

Lawrence Braithwaite was an outstanding spoken word artist and novelist whose talent and passion with words reflected those subcultures of the Montreal hardcore punk music, New York City No Wave music and underground hip hop. Braithwaite has been coined "one of the greatest prose writers alive" with his ability to unleash new worlds upon readers and expose his provocative characters and subtext while still maintaining distance and abstraction.

Notable Works

Wigger (1995) 

Ratz are Nice (2000)

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand is a novelist and poet, named Toronto's third Poet Laureate in September 2009. Brand's use of personal experience and prose-style language to explore the topics of race, sexuality and gender breath passion and intellect into her writing and expose topical injustices with conviction. Brand uses her ancestral roots to explore language as a means to disrupt the traditional and national boundaries and has thus become one of the most celebrated poets in Canadian history.

Notable Works

No Language is Neutral (1990)

Inventory (2006)

Austin Clark

Austin Clark is a powerful novelist whose incorporation of perspectives and struggles of Caribbean immigrants and people of colour challenges the context that Canada frames its identity. Clark's characters create a profound realism that is authentic and believable, ushering all readers into the situations of colonialism and racism that he explores. Clark is an incredibly decorated author receving the Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, among others, as well as being made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Notable Works

When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (1971)
The Polished Hoe (2002)

George Elliott Clarke

George Elliott Clarke's creation of the "Africadia" genre fuses together the African-Canadian experience with that of Nova Scotia as told by Clarke as a "literal and liberal" story. Clarke's writing has been credited as bringing awareness of African and black culture as well as redefining culture with his political stances and ability to tell stories. Clarke persistently challenges encounters with racism and discrimination, both historic and modern, focusing on defining and identifying the lost voices of the Africadian community.

Notable Works
Whylah Falls (1990)
Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of George and Rue (2001)

Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan skyrocketed to fame this year with the release of Half-Blood Blues, a story interwoven with tales of loyalty, fear and betrayal written by Edugyan's always uniquely stylized voice and rich, vibrant vocabulary. Edugyan's ability to tell deeply heartfelt and ultimately human stories is matched by her uncanny sense of writing and ability to craft characters, which definitely puts her on the forefront of promising Canadian writers.

Notable Works
The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004)
Half-Blood Blues (2011)

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has cemented his position as one of the most influential and inspiring authors both in and beyond Canada. His penchant to parallel storytelling and research together expresses an intriguing blend of personal experience backed up by solid reasoning. Gladwell forces readers to perceive the world through a different lens, bringing the intersections of race and ethnicity with success and opportunity to the forefront.

Notable Works
The Tipping Point (2000)
Blink (2005)

Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill shot to fame in 2007 with his staggering and devastating novel The Book of Negroes, a semi-historic account of a female African slave. The Book of Negroes and Hill's other works highlight his commitment and passion towards the progression and education of African women and girls, as much of his writing details struggles specific to women and girls in various African nations. Hill's continued passion and political thirst to expose historical and modern atrocities marks him as a prolific writer.

Notable Works
Black Berry, Sweet Juice (2001)
The Book of Negroes (2007)

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is an incredibly decorated author because her forays in the science-fiction and fantasy genres provide not only explosive and creative draws of plot, but a unique blend of Caribbean history and vocabulary. Hopkinson's style echoes her Jamaican roots and the traditions of storytelling in Caribbean culture infusing it with her exploration of queer issues and communities.

Notable Works
Brown Girl in the Ring (1998)
The New Moon's Arms (2007)

Makeda Silvera

Makeda Silvera credits the "need to engage in writing activism" as the catalyst to her writing career, which has been marked by critically-minded prose on Black, feminist and queer politics and communities. Silvera's ability to give marginalized and silenced peoples a voice through her words is evidenced by her writings and her crafting of the oral histories of these voices expressed as their voices. Silvera also started (with her partner) an independent press to aid marginalized writers with an opportunity to publish their works without censorships or ignorance.

Notable Works
Silenced: Caribbean Domestic Workers Talk with Makeda Silvera (1989)
The Heart Does Not Bend (2002)

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