Black History Month 2020

Julian of Norwich Anglican Church

Remembering and celebrating the history and experience of Black Canadians
and the contributions they have made to:

The Arts: Musicians, Novelists & Poets

The World at War: The defense of our country

Featured this week:
The Novelists

Black History Month – Week 2

We embrace the writings of an amazing number of talented Black Canadian novelists, such as Austin Clarke, Esi Edugyan, Cyril Dabydeen, André Alexis, Jillian Christmas, d’bi.young Anitafrika, Olive Senior, to name only a few.

This week we invite you to join us in recognizing the following, highly popular, Black Canadian novelists:

Nalo Hopkinson – Brown Girl in the Ring

Lawrence Hill – The Book of Negroes

Austin “Tom” Clarke – The Polished Hoe

Dionne Brand – What We All Long For

The Author – Nalo Hopkinson

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Nalo moved to Toronto, Ontario when she was sixteen and became a Canadian citizen before eventually moving to Southern California, where she now resides. Although she has written six novels, she is arguably best known for her Afrofuturism novel, “Brown Girl in the Ring”.

Let’s learn a little about Nalo from the author herself:


I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1960, to Freda and Slade. My brother Keita came in 1966. My birth family has lived in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, the U.S, and Canada. I began reading at age 3, and was reading Homer’s Iliad and Kurt Vonnegut by age 10. My favourite fiction has always been the various forms of fantastical fiction; everything from Caribbean folklore to Ursula K. Le Guin’s science fiction and fantasy. I began writing in the genre somewhere around 1993, and sold a couple of short stories before I attended the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop — then held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, USA — in 1995. In 1997 I won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest for my novel Brown Girl in the Ring, which Warner Aspect then published in 1998. I’ve written and published nine books of fiction and a number of short stories, and I’ve won some literary awards.

I now live in Southern California in the U.S, and am a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside, where I’m a member of a faculty research cluster in Science Fiction. I sew, craft objects in whichever media strike my fancy, design fabric, and cook food that mostly turns out pretty well. I have fibromyalgia, and was diagnosed relatively late in life with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, which explained a lot. I like moderate sunshine, love bopping around in the surf, and dream of one day living in a converted church, fire station or library. Or in a superadobe monolithic dome home.

Featured Novel – Brown Girl in the Ring

In Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson envisions a post-apocalyptic Toronto in which violent riots have led to the collapse of the city’s economy and political system. Many have fled the central city, and those who remain rely on a barter economy and herbal medicine. Meanwhile, there are exclusive ‘elite’ mega-malls and hospitals are so expensive, that only the rich can afford them.

Nalo Hopkinson’s characters use obeah and the novel introduces readers to many of the major Orisha spirits, such as Osain and Oshun, as well as (arguably) the most unique of them all, Eshu.

Listen to what the author has to say about the novel.

The Author – Lawrence Hill

Let’s learn a little about Lawrence from the author himself:


Lawrence Hill is the son of American immigrants — a black father and a white mother — who came to Canada the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C. On his father’s side, Hill’s grandfather and great grandfather were ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother came from a Republican family in Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from Oberlin College and went on to become a civil rights activist in D.C. Growing up in the predominantly white suburb of Don Mills, Ontario in the sixties, Hill was greatly influenced by his parents’ work in the human rights movement. Much of Hill’s writing touches on issues of identity and belonging.
Hill’s first passion was running, and as a boy he dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 5,000 meters. But despite years of intense training and thousands of kilometers, he never managed to run quite fast enough. As a teenager, he consoled himself by deciding to become a writer instead, and at 14 he wrote his first story on his mother’s L.C. Smith typewriter. It was a bad story, and a good beginning.

Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill speaks fluent French and some Spanish. He has lived and worked across Canada, in Baltimore, and in Spain and France. He is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he travelled as a volunteer to the West African countries Niger, Cameroon and Mali, and to which he lends the name of his best-known character for the Aminata Fund, which supports programs for girls and women in Africa. Hill is also a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and is an honorary patron of Project Bookmark Canada. He has a B.A. in economics from Laval University in Quebec City and an M.A. in writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Hill lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland.

Featured Novel – The Book of Negroes

Abducted as a child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea, Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War, registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes” and eventually travelling back to Africa.

A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex.

Published around the world, the novel won numerous prizes including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. The six-part television miniseries on which it was based attracted millions of viewers in Canada and the USA. The miniseries won many prizes, including eleven Canadian Screen Awards and the NAACP award for best writing in a television motion picture.

The Author – Austin “Tom” Clarke

Source: (updated by Julian of Norwich Anglican Church)

Austin Clarke was born in 1934 in Barbados, emigrating to Canada in 1955.

On leaving full-time education, he taught for three years at a rural secondary school, before moving to Canada, studying economics and political science at the University of Toronto. He abandoned his studies to work in journalism and broadcasting, and began writing fiction. In 1962 he became a full-time writer and produced the manuscripts for a book of short stories and two novels in the next two years. In the mid 1960s he worked as a freelance broadcaster for the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, recording interviews and documentaries on black issues in North America and Britain, and was active in the civil rights movement in Toronto in the 1960s and in the US in the 1970s, where he took several visiting lectureships in Creative Writing and African American literature at major American Universities.

From 1974-75 he was cultural attaché to the Barbadian Embassy in Washington, after which he was asked to return to Barbados as General Manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and adviser to the Prime Minister. He left after one year, returning to Canada, and later wrote Prime Minister, a novel inspired by this experience – an expose about corruption in a developing country. Returning to Canada, he wrote a weekly column for a Barbadian newspaper from 1979-1982, and served on the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada from 1988-1993.

Being a Canadian writer, born and raised in Barbados, allows Clarke to write from a unique perspective. The struggles of Caribbean immigrants in Toronto against racism and economic exploitation is a common theme in his work. His first published work was a novel entitled The Survivors of the Crossing (1964). Many other novels followed, including a trilogy comprising The Meeting Point (1967), Storm of Fortune (1973), and The Bigger Light (1975). The Origin of Waves (1997), a novel of memory and reunion, led to Clarke being named as the inaugural recipient of the Rogers Communications Trust Fiction Prize in 1998.

Clarke is also the author of several collections of short stories. His second collection, When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (1971) was a great critical success, and was followed by several other volumes, including When Women Rule (1985) and There Are No Elders (1993).

Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack (1980) is a memoir of Clarke’s childhood in Barbados, featuring his primary education at St Mathias Boys School, and explores colonial and postcolonial conditions in the British Empire. A second book of memoirs, A Passage Back Home: A Personal Reminiscence of Samuel Selvon (1994) explores his relationship with this Trinidadian writer and in Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit: Rituals of Slave Food – A Barbadian Memoir (1999), he combines recipes with further memories of his years in Barbados.

Perhaps his most well known novel is The Polished Hoe (2002). It was the winner of the 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Canada and the Caribbean region.

Austin Clarke continued to live in Toronto, and his last novel, More (2008), his most political, is a powerful indictment of the iniquities of racial discrimination and the crime of poverty. It won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2008.

Featured Novel – The Polished Hoe

The Polished Hoe is set in Barbados, renamed “Bimshire”, over the first half of the 20th century. Most of the novel takes place during one night in the postwar 50s, and the prevailing notes are of tragedy and unrealised love.

The remarkable central voice belongs to Mary-Mathilda, a vibrant and seductive woman of almost 60 who occupies an intermediate position between plantation house and village, as the “outside” woman of the manager, Bellfeels. Installed in the Great House, not far from the Main House where Bellfeels lives with his wife and two daughters, she is the mother of his only son, Wilberforce, a doctor of tropical medicines whose foreign education he lavishly funded. Seduced as a young girl, she later discovered what her mother had kept secret, that Bellfeels is her own father. Yet his spurning of her mother’s “wrinkle-up body” for the “piece o’ veal” of their daughter is presented not as melodrama but as an accepted byproduct of plantation life..

A gripping picture emerges of lives stunted by a rigid hierarchy enforced by terror, where status is determined by skin colour, from Bellfeels’s “almost pure white” to Mary-Mathilda’s “coffee with a lil milk in it”, and Percy’s midnight skin. Women are mere prey, says Mary-Mathilda, “as if we were like lil fish swimming round inside a big oil drum full o’ barracudas”.

Spoken narratives, says Mary-Mathilda, “are the only inheritances that poor people can hand down to their offsprings”. The Polished Hoe ‘s meandering orality, its slow-burning power, succeed movingly in asserting memory over the silent gaps in recorded history.

The Author – Dionne Brand


After graduating from Naparima Girls’ High School in Trinidad, Brand moved to Toronto in 1970. She earned a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1975 and an MA in Philosophy of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in 1989. Her first book, Fore Day Morning: Poems, was published in 1978.

Brand’s fiction includes the short story collection Sans Souci and Other Stories (1989) and the novels In Another Place, Not Here (1996), At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999), What We All Long For (2005) and Love Enough (2014). Like her poetry, much of Brand’s fiction is lyrical and rhetorically innovative, full of sumptuous imagery and vivid evocations of her protagonists’ wide range of experiences and emotional states.

Her first novel, In Another Place, Not Here, made the New York Times Notable Book list in 1998. It tells the story of two Caribbean women, one who wishes to escape from the islands to the city to attain a life of independence, and the other who returns to the islands from Toronto to affect political change. Both women long to be “in another place, not here.” Their mutual feelings of cultural displacement bring them together, for a time, as lovers. What We All Long For won the Toronto Book Award for its charged, challenging and lyrical examination of belonging in a multicultural city.

Brand has taught literature and creative writing in Ontario and British Columbia. She has also been a Distinguished Visiting Professor at St. Lawrence University in New York and has held the Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair in Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She currently holds a University Research Chair in English and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph.

Brand is a committed social activist, critiquing economic and political power structures and speaking out against racism, discrimination against women, and discrimination against gay and lesbian communities ( see Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada). Much of her written works convey her politics. In addition, she has chaired the Women’s Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, served on the board of the Shirley Samaroo House (a Toronto shelter for immigrant women) and worked as a counsellor for the Toronto Immigrant Women’s Centre. She is also a founding member of Our Lives, Canada’s first newspaper devoted to Black women.

One of Canada’s most acclaimed poets, Brand was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2006 and was named poet laureate of Toronto in 2009. She received an honorary doctorate from Thorneloe University in 2015, an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Windsor in 2017, and an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Toronto in 2018. In 2017, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada. Shortly after, McClelland & Stewart announced that Brand had been hired for the newly-created position of poetry editor. In a press release, Brand said that she was grateful for the opportunity and that “the best poetry jolts and shocks, it mines language for what we have not seen, have not heard.”

Featured Novel – What We All Long For

They were born in the city from people born elsewhere.

The novel is a gripping and, at times, heart-rending story about identity, longing and loss in a cosmopolitan city. No other writer has presented such a powerful and richly textured portrait of present-day Toronto. Rinaldo Walcott writes in The Globe and Mail: “… every great city has its literary moments, and contemporary Toronto has been longing for one. We can now say with certainty that we no longer have to long for a novel that speaks this city’s uniqueness: Dionne Brand has given us exactly that.” Donna Bailey Nurse writes in the National Post: “What We All Long For is a watershed novel. From now on, Canadian writers will be pressed to portray contemporary Toronto in all its multiracial colour and polyphonic sound.”

But What We All Long For is not only about a particular city. It’s about the universal experience of being human. As Walcott puts it, “Brand makes us see ourselves differently and anew. She translates our desires and experiences into a language, an art that allows us to voice that which we live, but could not utter or bring to voice until she did so for us.”

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