Emancipation Day commemorates the abolition of slavery across the British Empire on Aug. 1. On that historic day in 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, freeing more than 800,000 people of African descent in Canada and throughout the British Empire.
To mark Emancipation Day, here are 16 books by Canadian authors that examine themes of racial and social justice and the experience of being Black in Canada and beyond.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud's debut memoir examines his journey from Sudan at age 12 with his family to Kingston, Ont., where he realizes that he needs to learn what his Black identity means in a new country. In this collection of frank, funny and thoughtful essays, Abdelmahmoud explores how our experiences and our environments help us in the continuing task of defining who we truly are.
Elamin Abdelmahmoud is a culture writer for BuzzFeed News. He is also the host of CBC's pop-culture podcast Pop Chat, the founding co-host of the CBC Politics podcast Party Lines, and a contributor to The National's At Issue panel. His writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Globe and Mail and other outlets.
In The Long Emancipation, Toronto academic and writer Rinaldo Walcott posits that Black people globally live in the time of emancipation — and that emancipation is not freedom. Taking examples from across the globe, he argues that wherever Black people have been emancipated from slavery and colonization, a potential true freedom has been thwarted.
Inspired by the essays of James Baldwin and spurred by the police killings and street protests of 2020, writer Ian Williams offers a perspective distinct from the many America-centric books on race — an outlook honed by the fact he has lived in Trinidad (where he was never the only Black person in the room), in Canada (where he often was), and in the United States (where as a Black man from the Caribbean, he was a different kind of 'only').
Ian Williams is a poet, novelist and professor from Brampton, Ont., who is currently teaching at the University of British Columbia. His debut novel Reproduction won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is also the author of the poetry collection Personals, which was a finalist for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Acclaimed as one of Canada's most important novels examining the Black experience, The Polished Hoe unravels over the course of 24 hours but spans the lifetime of one woman and the collective experience of a society informed by slavery. Set on the post-colonial West Indian island of Bimshire in 1952, the story brings together elements of the African diaspora in one epic sweep.
First published in 2002, The Polished Hoe will be re-released in a special 20th anniversary edition from Dundurn Press in September 2022, featuring a new cover and a foreword by Clarke's friend and former housemate Rinaldo Walcott.
The Polished Hoe won the 2002 Giller Prize, the 2003 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best book overall and the 2003 Trillium Book Award.
- 20th-anniversary edition of Austin Clarke's Giller Prize-winning The Polished Hoe coming in fall 2022
Austin Clarke was a Barbados-born, Toronto-based professor of literature who taught at universities across the U.S., including Yale, where he assisted in setting up a Black Studies program in 1968, after which he became the cultural attaché of the Embassy of Barbados in Washington, D.C. His writing work included eleven novels, six short story collections and four memoirs. He died in June 2016.
This anthology of work from participants of the Black Pen intensive creative writing program at Toronto's Nia Centre for the Arts features fiction and non-fiction that explores the Black experience, crosses global borders and embraces tradition while pushing the art of storytelling forward.
- New anthology Griot: Six Writers' Sojourn Into the Dark spotlights work from emerging Black Canadian writers
The chapbook was edited and curated by Whitney French, the founder of the Writing While Black workshop series and co-publisher of Hush Harbour, a Black feminist queer press. It features writing from Yvvana Yeboah Duku, Adeola Egbeyemi, Onyka Gairey, Saherla Osman, Kais Padamshi and Omi Rodney.
Set in the Bahamas, this collection of 18 stories follows women and girls searching for identity and belonging during moments of profound upheaval. Grounded in folkloric and surreal elements, these stories speak to the beauty and brutality of being alive.
- Why Janice Lynn Mather writes from a youthful point of view in her short story collection Uncertain Kin
Janice Lynn Mather is a novelist and short story writer born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, who now lives in Vancouver. Her other books include Learning to Breathe, which was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.
In her first book, Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr traces the story of her mother Dora Akunyili, an activist inspired by the African philosophy of Ubuntu — the importance of community over the individual. Dora took on fraudulent drug manufacturers whose products killed millions, including her sister. A woman in a man's world, she was elected and became a cabinet minister, but had to deal with political manoeuvrings, death threats and an assassination attempt for defending the voiceless.
Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr is a Nigerian Canadian writer, speaker, storyteller and movement-builder who has worked with global organizations including the World Economic Forum and the Ubuntu Foundation.
Former Degrassi actor Anais Granofsky's debut memoir explores how two families, one white and one Black, faced systemic oppression spanning multiple generations and came out at opposite economic classes — and how they clashed when they shared a granddaughter.
Granofsky shares her experience of living in opposite worlds, and demonstrates how generational shame, grief and prejudice can still give way to love and forgiveness.
Anais Granofsky is an actor, director, producer and writer. Best known for her role as Lucy Fernandez on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, she has directed and starred in a number of films. She is also developing a fictional TV series loosely based on her childhood.
Tolu Oloruntoba's second full-length collection of poetry explores migration, diasporas, transience and instability through looking at the behavior and large variety of finches — a migratory bird that typifies the unrest that marks the lives of millions of people all over the globe today.
- Tolu Oloruntoba's Each One a Furnace draws on the flight of birds to explore the struggles of modern migration
Tolu Oloruntoba is a writer from Nigeria now based in Surrey, B.C. His first full-length poetry collection, The Junta of Happenstance, won the 2022 Griffin Prize and the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. He is the founder of the literary magazine Klorofyl and author of the chapbook Manubrium, which was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award.
In The Day-Breakers, poet Michael Fraser imagines the selflessness of Black soldiers who fought for the Union during the American Civil War — including hundreds of African Canadians. In his poems, Fraser captures the rhythms of their voices and offers an homage to their sacrifice as well as a powerful new perspective on Black history and experience.
Michael Fraser is an award-winning poet and writer based in Toronto. He has been published in several anthologies and his books include To Greet Yourself Arriving and The Serenity of Stone. His poem African Canadian in Union Blue won the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize.
This anthology brings together some of Canada''s most influential poets from print, dub and spoken-word backgrounds and gives them space to speak freely about their personal journeys in piercing verse and unapologetic prose.
Just as individual experiences of Blackness are diverse across Canada, each contributor recounts aspects of navigating their unique personal, professional and artistic paths in Black skin with candour.
A. Gregory Frankson is a poet, advocate and the founder of education and coaching firm Voice Share. He is the author of four collections of poetry and is a former Canadian national poetry slam champion under the stage name Ritallin.
This picture book for young readers explores the roots of family across time and place. When Pigeon Pea has a million questions about their family, Auntie gives them the magic key to go back in time and across continents to meet, celebrate, and feast with their ancestors and orisha.
Jillian Christmas is an educator, activist and community organizer who focuses on increasing anti-oppression initiatives in spoken word. She is the former artistic director of Vancouver's Verses Festival of Words.
Hurricane Summer is the story of Tilla, who follows her absentee father to his beloved Jamaica — and is forced to confront a storm in her own life as a hurricane descends on the island. Along the way, Tilla deals with colourism, classism, complex family dynamics and what it means to discover your own voice in the centre of complete destruction.
- Asha Bromfield's YA novel Hurricane Summer is a coming-of-age story that embraces womanhood and sexuality
Asha Bromfield is a Canadian actor, singer and author best known for her role as Melody Valentine, the drummer in the band Josie and the Pussycats in the television series Riverdale.
In the Nigerian city of Enugu, young Nwabulu, a housemaid since the age of ten, dreams of becoming a typist amid her endless chores and is in love with a rich man's son. Meanwhile, educated and privileged Julie is a modern woman living on her own, refusing to become a lovestruck man's second wife.
When a kidnapping years later forces the two women together, they share their stories as they await their fate. Set against the backdrop of Nigeria over four decades, The Son of the House celebrates the resilience of women as they navigate what still remains a man's world.
- Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia's debut novel The Son of the House is a story about gender, trauma & patriarchy
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic and writer who divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the House is her first novel.
The Island of Forgetting is an intimate saga spanning four generations of one family who run a beachfront hotel. Starting in the 1960s and moving from Barbados to Canada, the story examines complex relationships, race, sexuality and the many ways a family's past can haunt its future.
Jasmine Sealy is a Barbadian-Canadian writer based in Vancouver. She won the 2020 UBC/HarperCollins Best New Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the 2017 CBC Short Story Prize. The Island of Forgetting is her debut novel.
In this affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year after his joyful summer is impacted by a police shooting in his community. As the seasons change, both he and his community find themselves moving through fear and anger ultimately to pride and peace.
FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2022 is a two-hour special featuring performances and discussions with leading Black Canadian artists, creators and thinkers coming together to celebrate freedom. Tune in on Monday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC Television and CBC Gem.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out CBC's Being Black in Canada series.