Arts·Black Light

While she's away, Amanda Parris is sharing her column Black Light with a new voice every month

Meet the writers! These top artists and thinkers will each take on a guest edition of the column.

Meet the writers! These top artists and thinkers will each take on a guest edition of the column

Clockwise from top left: Makeda Silvera, Rodney Diverlus, Anique Jordan, Huda Hassan, Djanet Sears, Matthew Progress, Nehal E-Hadi, Amani Bin Shikhan. Watch for their columns on CBC Arts. (Roaring River Films, Angelyn Francis, Liz Ikiriko, Marlowe Granados, CBC Arts, Luis Mora, Soko Negash)

Black Light is a column by Governor General Award-winning writer Amanda Parris that spotlights, champions and challenges art and popular culture that is created by Black people and/or centres Black people.

As some of you may know, I am expecting my first child later this year, so this will be my final Black Light until I return from maternity leave in 2021. I have been writing a column for CBC Arts for the past five years, but it was only in January that I launched Black Light. The purpose was to create an intentional space to challenge, critically engage and shine a spotlight on art and popular culture that is created by and/or centres Black people.

What a year it was to launch.

With a global pandemic, a mass uprising and a U.S. election that kept the world on edge for days (not to mention my own personal journey of pregnancy in the midst of all this chaos), it's a little comical to look back at my first column. The article details the must-see projects for the coming year. Little did I know that just a few months later everything would be shut down and people would take to the streets demanding change. Rather than profiling new projects, I spent much of the year writing about artists trying to survive a global health and economic crisis while simultaneously working to transform the systems and institutions that had limited their opportunities long before the threat of COVID-19. (I was right about Lovecraft Country, though!)

It's a year unlike any I've ever experienced. And through listicles, feature interviews, historic deep dives and pointed calls to action, Black Light manifested as a space for analysis, escape, insight and exposure. I've recognized the privilege of this platform and the responsibility that comes with it. As the only national column dedicated to Black art and culture, Black Light is an important addition to the work of our public broadcaster and helps them to fulfil their mandate of representing all Canadians. Given its continued potential and possibilities, I didn't want this space to be put on pause just because I need to go on leave. So I decided to consider it an opportunity to open the door a little bit more.

Rather than suspend Black Light while I am gone, I'm sharing the platform. I've curated a special group of guest columnists, emerging and established writers with a wide range of expertise and very different literary styles. These are all individuals whose work I have admired and whose insights and perspectives I've appreciated (even if I haven't always agreed with them). Published novelists, award-winning playwrights, cutting-edge musicians, visual artists and curators: this is a diverse list of folks who will bring something new and fresh to the column.

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Each month, a new edition of Black Light will drop featuring words by one of these writers, and I'm super amped to read what they share. Here are some of the writers you will be hearing from.

Djanet Sears is an award-winning playwright and theatre director whom I adore. Her published plays are among my most treasured possessions, and her years of creating space for Black theatre artists — whether through festivals or anthologies — has provided a rich tapestry of experiences. A few years ago CBC Arts asked Sears to drop some words of wisdom for young artists, and she did not disappoint. Also, she consistently wears the most amazing glasses. I am so honoured that she agreed to write for Black Light.

Amani Bin Shikhan is a brilliant young producer, researcher and writer and one of the superstars behind the Peabody and International Emmy Award-winning show Hip-Hop Evolution. She is also the witty and gifted wordsmith behind some of my favourite album reviews, artist profiles and interviews. She's written for Fader, Noisey, Teen Vogue and CBC Arts. I can't wait to see what she chooses to write for Black Light.

Matthew Progress is a writer, rapper and filmmaker. Earlier this year, I wrote about his moving video collage TXN, which commemorated the past decade of Black culture in Toronto. He's an artist constantly pushing boundaries. If you don't believe me, check out the music video he directed last year for Shad's "The Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink)." And he's a cultural critic who's never afraid to voice an unpopular opinion. I look forward to reading what he creates for the column.

Nehal El-Hadi is one of the most brilliant minds (and glamorous dressers) I know. She is a researcher, writer, editor, producer and planner whose wide array of experiences includes a research project exploring our relationship to sand and an international podcast project on Black craft and design. From her deep love of hip hop to her expertise in science and environmental journalism, I am excited to discover which well of knowledge she will dip into for her Black Light column.

Makeda Silvera's resumé is legendary. There is her literary work: novels like The Heart Does Not Bend (which I devoured as an undergrad) to her collection of interviews with Caribbean domestic workers (Silenced). There is her pioneering work as the co-owner of 101 Dewson Street, a house that became a collective residence and one of the first truly safe spaces for queer people of colour in the city. And there is her role as the co-founder of Sister Vision Press, the first Canadian publishing company whose mission was to publish writing by and for women of colour. Like I said: legendary. So when I tell you I am excited about Silvera writing for Black Light, please know that this word doesn't come close to describing how I actually feel. 

A co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, Rodney Diverlus is a brilliant dancer, artist and curator. Earlier this year, he co-edited the book Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada, which included his brilliant essay on the ways performance and choreographic design have shaped Black activism. I haven't been able to look at protests in the same way since reading it. Diverlus has been a leading voice in so many of the critical transformations happening in Toronto and across the country. I am very excited to see what he decides to share for Black Light.

Huda Hassan is a brilliant writer and scholar currently working on her Ph.D at the Women & Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. Hassan is one of those critical thinkers who can deliver layers of analysis on everything from James Baldwin prose to Victoria's Secret models' linguistic no-no's. Her writing is bold, her taste is impeccable and she reps Scarborough harder than anyone I've ever met in the academy. I can't wait to read what she writes for Black Light.

Anique Jordan is one of the most thoughtful and talented visual artists, curators and writers working right now. Constantly finding ways to thread community into her creative practice, Jordan is consistently opening new doors, resurrecting forgotten histories and pushing us to imagine in more courageous ways. Last year I wrote about her work coordinating a gathering of 100 Black women at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I am honoured she agreed to participate in this, and I look forward to seeing what she writes.

Watch for the first guest edition of Black Light in early January.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.

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