21 books that shed light on the untold stories of Black Canadians

Black Life: Untold Stories is a new CBC doc series about the lesser known stories of Black Canadians. The series is streaming now on CBC Gem.

Black Life: Untold Stories is streaming now on CBC Gem

A first look at Black Life: Untold Stories, a new must-see docuseries coming to CBC Gem on October 18 | Official Trailer

2 months ago
Duration 1:40
Featured VideoEpic eight-part documentary series reframes the rich and complex histories of Black people in Canada over 400 years.

This fall, CBC Docs is launching Black Life: Untold Stories, an eight-part docu-series about the Black experience in Canada. Black Life dives deep into some of the little-known history of Black Canadians and how they've helped shape the country over the past 400 years.

The series is available on CBC Gem and airs weekly on CBC TV starting Oct. 25.

Black Life references and features many books by acclaimed Black Canadian authors — from poetry to nonfiction and novels. 

CBC Books has put together a list of some of the books that were featured on the show, whose authors worked on the series or were used as research. Check them out.

Angry Queer Somali Boy by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali

A young Black man looking pensively at the camera.
Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali. (Philip Sutherland, University of Regina Press)

Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, a young man who left Somalia, spent time in the Netherlands and ended up homeless in Canada. Canada was the promised land, but when he didn't fit in and life was more difficult than he expected, Ali turned to drugs and partying before finding his way. 

Angry Queer Somali Boy is Ali's first book and combines his personal story with the history of and commentary on the places he's called home: Somalia, Europe and Canada. 

LISTEN | Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali on The Sunday Edition:
Featured VideoMohamed Abdulkarim Ali has been through a lot since he was born almost 35 years ago in Mogadishu, Somalia. A ruinous civil war; migrating to the Netherlands and then to Canada, a Muslim in a strange land; a fractured family; discovering he was gay; homelessness, alcoholism and addiction. You might say that anyone who's lived through all that should write a memoir. That's what he did. It's called Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, and it was widely acclaimed as one of the best Canadian books of 2019.

I've Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy

I've Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy
I've Been Meaning to Tell You is a nonfiction book by David Chariandy. (McClelland & Stewart)

In I've Been Meaning to Tell YouDavid Chariandy contemplates how to talk to his young daughter about the politics and history of race by sharing their family's story and his personal experience as the son of Black and South Asian immigrants from Trinidad. Chariandy navigates sensitive and complex issues, acknowledging a painful past while also describing a hopeful future.

David Chariandy is an award-winning author and University educator based in Vancouver. His debut novel Soucouyant won the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (GOLD) for Literary Fiction and was a finalist for Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction in 2007. His novel Brother won the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the 2018 Toronto Book Award and the 2018 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. It was also longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was on Canada Reads 2019. The book was adapted into a feature film that debut at TIFF in 2022 and won thirteen Canadian Screen Awards including Best Motion Picture.

LISTEN | David Chariandy on the film adaptation of his bestselling novel Brother:
Featured VideoA feature film based on the award-winning novel, Brother, tells the story of two brothers maturing into young men amid Toronto's 1990s hip-hop scene. Author David Chariandy joined Stephen to talk about what it meant to see his book turned into a film.

'Membering by Austin Clarke

Portrait of author Austin Clarke.
Author Austin Clarke takes part in the CBC Books feature Magic 8. (Dundurn Press)

In 'Membering, Austin Clarke documents his life growing up in Barbados and his experience living in Canada to attend school and become a journalist. Clarke writes about living during a time when a new generation of Black writers were emerging and his experience interviewing Malcolm X and writers Chinua Achebe and LeRoi Jones. 

Clarke was a Toronto-based novelist, essayist and short story writer originally from Barbados. He is the author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning The Polished HoeHe died on June 26, 2016, at the age of 81. 

WATCH | Austin Clarke meets Malcolm X:

'Here was Canada’s angriest Black man meeting the U.S.'s angriest Black man' | Black Life: Untold Stories

3 months ago
Duration 1:30
Featured VideoWriter Austin Clarke, right, interviews Malcolm X on race relations in Canada in 1963, in a scene from Black Life: Untold Stories.

Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke

A portrait of Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke.
Whylah Falls is a poetry book by George Elliott Clarke. (Gaspereau Press, Camelia Linta)

Whylah Falls is a book-length narrative poem that serves as a snapshot of the Black community in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century. George Elliott Clarke uses his engaging and exuberant voice to detail the passion and struggles of the often overlooked history of Black Nova Scotians. 

George Elliott Clarke was Canada's parliamentary poet laureate and was the fourth poet laureate of Toronto (2012-2015). A member of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, his recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke currently teaches African-Canadian literature at the University of Toronto. His other books include George and Rue and The MotorcyclistWhylah Falls was a contender in the inaugural edition of Canada Reads, in 2002. It was defended by Nalo Hopkinson.

The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole

The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole
The Skin We're In is a nonfiction book by Desmond Cole. (Doubleday Canada, Chris Young/Canadian Press)

In The Skin We're In, journalist and activist Desmond Cole looks at what it's like to live in Canada as a Black person. The Skin We're In looks at one year, 2017, and chronicles Coles's personal journalism, activism and experiences alongside stories that made the headlines across the country, including refugees crossing the Canada-U.S. border in the middle of winter and the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Ottawa police.

Cole is a journalist, radio host and activist based in Toronto. His writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Now Magazine and the Walrus. The Skin We're In won the 2020 Toronto Book Award.

LISTEN | Desmond Cole talks about The Skin We're In on The Next Chapter 
Featured VideoToronto journalist Desmond Cole talks about his bestselling debut nonfiction book, The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power.

Black Matters by Afua Cooper and The Hanging of Angélique by Afua Cooper & Wilfried Raussert

A composite image of two book covers beside the ace of a Black woman with short hair.
Afua Cooper is the author of the books Black Matters and The Hanging of Angelique. (Fernwood Publishing, Courtesy of Afua Cooper)

Poet Afua Cooper and photographer Wilfried Raussert collaborated on Black Matters, which explores the everyday experience of what it's like to be Black in Canada. Each of Raussert's photographs has a companion poem written by Cooper.

The Hanging of Angélique tells the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in the 1700s. The work challenges the idea of a slavery-free Canada by way of documenting cases of legally and culturally endorsed slavery in the country. 

Cooper is the poet laureate of Halifax. She's also a historian and teacher. She is the author of five books of poetry and two novels, including The Hanging of Angélique.

Raussert is a Canadian photographer, artist and academic who currently teaches in Germany. He has authored or edited more than 20 scholarly books.

LISTEN | Afua Cooper on Information Morning:
Featured VideoScholars and historians from across the globe will be in Halifax, for the Universities Studying Slavery Conference. It's the first time the conference is being held outside the United States. Distinguished local academics Dr. Afua Cooper and Dr. Sylvia Hamilton are guest speakers.

Emancipation Day by Natasha Henry-Dixon

A composite image of a yellow book cover and a portrait of a Black woman with glasses smiling into the camera.
Emancipation Day is a nonfiction book by Natasha L. Henry Dixon. (Dundurn Press, Courtesy of Natasha L. Henry-Dixon)

In Emancipation Day Natasha Henry-Dixon provides a thoroughly researched account of the history of Canadian slavery. Her emphasis is on how Black Canadians coped after the Slavery Abolition Act was in effect. Using archival research, Henry-Dixon is able to capture the celebrations of Emancipation Day for more than 100 years in a number of Black communities across Canada. While showcasing moments of Black joy, like parades, weddings and barbecues, she also provides the messy aftereffects of slavery and racism. This title highlights the fact that despite emancipation from slavery, Black Canadians are not emancipated from anti-Black racism.

Natasha Henry-Dixon is an assistant professor of African Canadian History at York University. She is also a curriculum consultant specializing in the development of learning materials that focus on the African diasporic experience.

Pourin' Down Rain by Cheryl Foggo

A composite image of a book cover and a portrait of a woman with braids looking up to the left.
Pourin' Down Rain is a memoir by Cheryl Foggo. ( Brush Education, CBC/Mike Tan)

In Pourin' Down Rain Cheryl Foggo recounts her life growing up as a Black girl in Calgary with her family, documenting the long legacy that Black people imprinted on the province of Alberta. She wrote the book with the understanding that the Black experience in Alberta had for years been obfuscated by the dominant settler narrative — stories that erased Indigenous Nations, Black people and other people of colour in favour of tales of "open land."

Cheryl Foggo is an award-winning storyteller based in Calgary who uses various forms of narrative – journalism, books, film, television and theatre – to tell the stories of Alberta's Black pioneers. 

They Call Me George by Cecil Foster

Cecil Foster is a Canadian novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar.
Cecil Foster is a Canadian novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar. (Sharon Beckford-Foster, Michael Vrana & Biblioasis)

At the beginning of the 20th century, being a train porter in Canada was a job reserved for Black men only. Cecil Foster documents this underreported piece of Canadian history in the nonfiction book They Call Me George. The tiring, thankless and low-paying job — that consisted of hauling luggage, folding down beds, shining shoes and serving passengers— forced these men to be separated from their families as they travelled the country. 

They Call Me George documents how one man, Stanley Grizzle, went from being a porter to leading a movement and eventually receiving the Order of Canada.

Cecil Foster is a Canadian novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar.

LISTEN | Cecil Foster on The Sunday Edition:
Featured VideoAt the beginning of the 20th century, being a train porter in Canada was the exclusive domain of black men who laboured long hours for miserable pay. Cecil Foster is a journalist and academic whose book, They Call Me George; The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada, chronicles the story of the "Pullmen" of the Canadian rail lines, and their fight for social justice.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Portrait of Esi Edugyan.
Esi Edugyan won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Half-Blood Blues. (Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers)

In Half-Blood Blues, Hiero is a talented young Black German jazz musician who disappears during the Second World War. Half-Blood Blues, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011 and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize that same year, explores race, history, love, loss, music and the sacrifices we make to pursue our passion.

Esi Edugyan is the author of the novels The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and Half-Blood Blues, the latter of which won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was defended on Canada Reads by Donovan Bailey in 2014. She delivered the CBC Massey Lectures and adapted the series into the book Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling. Raised in Calgary, Edugyan now lives in Victoria. Her novel Washington Black won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and the 2018 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. The book was championed by Mark Tewskbury on Canada Reads 2022 and is currently being adapted into a TV series by Sterling K. Brown.

LISTEN | Esi Edugyan on The Next Chapter:
Featured VideoEsi Edugyan discusses Half-Blood Blues with Shelagh Rogers.

Until We Are Free, edited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson and Syrus Marcus Ware

A composite image.
Until We Are Free is a collection of writing that reflects on the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada. (Submitted by University of Regina Press)

This collection of writing and photographs explore issues facing the Black community in Canada. In light of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in this country, Until We Are Free addresses how developments in Canadian Black activism, alliances with Indigenous groups and the savvy use of social media have served to challenge systemic racism, state violence and question myths of "Canadian politeness and niceness." 

Until We Are Free was edited by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson and Syrus Marcus Ware.

LISTEN | Rodney Diverlus on CBC News: 
Featured VideoDiverlus is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. He spoke with CBC News about the Toronto Pride Parade protest and the state of racism in North America.

Tender by Sylvia Hamilton

The red book cover features the letters of the title "Tender" in a slightly darker red printed two letters across and three letters down, filling up the book cover.
Tender is a book by Sylvia Hamilton. (Gaspereau Press)

Sylvia Hamilton's poetry collection Tender mixes historical, imagined and personal experiences to paint a moving portrait of her home province, Black resilience and the power of documenting one's story. 

Sylvia Hamilton dedicates herself to recalling and reclaiming forgotten lives, especially the lives of Black people in Nova Scotia. Through her films and poetry, including her poetry collection And I Alone Escaped to Tell You, Hamilton chronicles the history of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia.

LISTEN | Sylvia Hamilton on The Next Chapter:
Featured VideoShelagh Rogers talks to Sylvia Hamilton about her poetry collection, Tender.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

A portrairt of author Lawrence Hill.
The Book of Negroes is a novel by Lawrence Hill. (CBC, HarperCollins Canada)

The Book of Negroeswhich also won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, was inspired by the Black Americans who were resettled in Nova Scotia. The Book of Negroes is a portrayal of the brutal realities of the slave trade told through one woman's life. The novel won Canada Reads in 2009 and was adapted into a six-part miniseries, which can be streamed on CBC Gem.

Lawrence Hill is the Ontario author of novels such as The Book of NegroesThe IllegalSome Great Thing and Any Known Blood and the memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice. He also delivered the 2013 Massey Lectures, Blood: The Stuff of Life. In 2022, Hill published his first children's book titled Beatrice and Croc Harry.

Hill is the only author to have won Canada Reads twice. In 2009, The Book of Negroes was crowned champion after it was successfully defended by filmmaker Avi Lewis and Olympian Clara Hughes led his fourth novel, The Illegal, to victory in 2016. 

WATCH | Lawrence Hill on racism in Canada:

Lawrence Hill on racism in Canada, U.S. after George Floyd’s death

3 years ago
Duration 2:41
Featured VideoAuthor Lawrence Hill shares his thoughts on racism in Canada and the U.S. after George Floyd’s death and what needs to be done to end the cycle of racial injustice.

Races by Valerie Jerome

Cover of Valerie Jerome Book, author Photo
Valerie Jerome recounts her family history of bitter racism and athletic excellence. (Photo of author courtesy Brian Kipp)

The Jerome family have an historic record in Canadian sports with the grandfather being the country's first Black Olympian and siblings Harry and Valerie also competing and setting world records in the 1960s. In the book Races, Valerie Jerome details those heroic moments for her family and the nation, that came alongside the racism they simultaneously had to face.

Valerie Jerome is the granddaughter of Canada's first Black Olympian John "Army" Howard and a Canadian Olympian herself. She has previously represented the Green Party of British Columbia and her work in conservation garnered her a 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal and a City of Vancouver Heritage Award.

WATCH | Valerie Jerome talks about her family's struggles on BC Today:

Olympian recalls athletic success amid horrific racism in new book

2 months ago
Duration 11:53
Featured VideoTrack and field star Valerie Jerome spoke to BC Today host Michelle Eliot about her family's struggles and successes, which she details in a new book called Races: The Trials and Triumphs of Canada's Fastest Family.

Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard

A portrait of a Black woman with dreadlocks.
Robyn Maynard is the author of Policing Black Lives. She will give a presentation at the Association of Black Social Workers 40th Anniversary Conference next week in Halifax. (Stacy Lee Photography, Fernwood Publishing)

Robyn Maynard's Policing Black Lives traces the underreported modern and historical realities of anti-Blackness within a Canadian context. Maynard examines the fact that slavery occurred in Canada for more than 200 years and that enslaved Indigenous and Black individuals were responsible for developing infrastructure for white Canadian settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries — and how that legacy has defined institutionalized racism today.

Maynard is a Montreal-based Black feminist author, activist and educator. 

LISTEN | Robyn Maynard on Seat at the Table:
Featured VideoThe very first Black Lives Matter presence outside of the U.S. began with Sandy Hudson in 2014. Martine and Isabelle look at how far the movement has come in Canada with Hudson, and take the time to really understand what defunding the police and abolition mean with Robyn Maynard, author of “Policing Black Lives”.

Bedroom Rapper by Rollie Pemberton

A purple book cover with an artistic shot of someone on stage. The book's author, a man earing a hat staring down at the camera.
Bedroom Rapper is a book by Rollie Pemberton. (McClelland & Stewart, Rollie Pemberton)

Rollie Pemberton is best known by his stage name, Cadence Weapon. The Edmonton-born rapper won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his album Parallel World. His memoir, Bedroom Rapper, intertwines his own personal journey in the music industry with an in-depth exploration of the history of hip-hop. 

Rollie Pemberton is an Alberta rapper, poet, journalist and on-air personality. He won the 2021 Polaris Music Prize for his album Parallel World. His writing has been published in Pitchfork, The Guardian, Wired and Hazlitt. Currently based in Toronto, Pemberton was a former poet laureate for Edmonton.

LISTEN | Rollie Pemberton on his memoir Bedroom Rapper:
Featured VideoRollie Pemberton discusses his memoir, Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon, on Hip-Hop, Resistance and Surviving the Music Industry.

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

A book cover of an uprooted tree by the ocean. A woman wearing glasses stares at the camera with a hand on her face.
Zong!'s 15th anniversary edition will be out on Oct. 10, 2023. (Invisible Publishing, Gail Nyoka)

Zong! is a fragmented and evocative retelling of the forced drowning of some 150 enslaved Africans in November 1781 on the slave ship Zong. This atrocity was committed so the ship's owners could collect money for insurance. Exploring the intersection of law and poetry, Zong! excavates the legal text of Gregson v. Gilbert, the only public record of this brutality, to tell the story that cannot be told, yet must be. 

Philip is a renowned writer and scholar born in Tobago and currently living in Toronto. She has won numerous awards, including the 2021 Canada Council for the Arts' lifetime achievement award, the Molson Prize, and the 2020 PEN/Nabokov Award for International Literature, which recognizes a writer's entire body of work.

LISTEN | M. NourbeSe Philip on Ideas:
Featured VideoIn November 1721, a massacre began on the Zong slave ship. The tragedy inspired the Canadian poem Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip. She reflects on the mass murder, the bizarre court case, and the work of art still rising from its depths. *This episode originally aired on November 29, 2021.

Gutter Child by Jael Richardson

A portrait of Jael Richardson.
Gutter Child is a novel by Jael Richardson. (HarperAvenue, Simon Remark)

Gutter Child is about a young girl growing up in a world divided: the Mainland, where people of privilege live, and the Gutter, a police state where the most vulnerable reside. A social experiment results in 100 babies born in the Gutter being raised in the Mainland. One of those babies is Elimina Dubois. But when Elimina's Mainland mother dies, she is sent to an academy with rules and a way of life Elimina doesn't understand.

Jael Richardson is the founder and the artistic director of the Festival for Literary Diversity (FOLD) and the books columnist for q on CBC Radio. She is also the author of the nonfiction book The Stone Thrower, which was also adapted into a picture book of the same name. Gutter Child is her first work of fiction.

LISTEN | Jael Richardson on The Next Chapter:
Featured VideoJael Richardson on the inspiration behind her debut novel, Gutter Child.

No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield

A composite image of a portrait of a Black woman and a boo cover.
Mairuth Sarsfield was a Canadian author, activist journalist, researcher and television personality. (Ron Fanfair, Canadian Scholars' Press)

Mairuth Sarsfield's novel tells the story of a young widow trying to raise three daughters and earn a decent living on her own. Set in Montreal in the mid-1940s, No Crystal Stair is a compelling story of ambition, love and a tightly-knit Black community that must contend with the subtle racism of Canadian society. 

Mairuth Sarsfield was a Montreal-born writer, diplomat author and television host. No Crystal Stair was a contender on Canada Reads 2005. She died in Toronto in May of 2013.

BlackLife by Rinaldo Walcott & Idil Abdillahi

A composite image.
Blacklife is a nonfiction book by Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi. (Submitted by ARP Press)

Writers and academics Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi are the authors of BlackLife, a nonfiction book that examines the modern reality of Black Canadians through the Western cultural lens of culture, history, literature, music and public policy.

BlackLife posits that violence is at the core of the nation state and how the destruction of Black life and culture has been seen as acceptable collateral damage. The book maintains that a rethink by artists, activists and scholars alike is needed to enable a new reality for Black Canadians.

Walcott is a professor at the University of Toronto, where he is the director of women and gender studies and teaches at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Abdillahi is a professor of social work at Ryerson University.

LISTEN | Rinaldo Walcott on Day 6:
Featured VideoIn the midst of global protests of the killing of George Floyd, Rinaldo Walcott started thinking about the connections between calls to defund police, the fight to abolish slavery and the way personal property figures into all of it. The result is his new book, On Property, which he prefers to think of it as a pamphlet in the tradition of anti-slavery abolitionists.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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