Books

25 books by Black Canadian authors to read in 2021

Here are some recent literary works by Black Canadian writers to check out this year.

February is Black History Month. CBC Books has selected 25 notable books by Black Canadian authors to read this month (and every month).

Gutter Child by 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 adapted into a picture book of the same name. Gutter Child is her first work of fiction.

Jael Richardson on the inspiration behind her debut novel, Gutter Child. 19:35

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Butter Honey Pig Bread is a novel by Francesca Ekwuyasi. (Monica Phung, Arsenal Pulp Press)
 

Butter Honey Pig Bread is a novel about twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi believes she was a spirit who was supposed to die as a small child. By staying alive, she is cursing her family — a fear that appears to come true when Kehinde experiences something that tears the family apart, and divides the twins for years. But when the three women connect years later, they must confront their past and find forgiveness.

Roger Mooking is championing Butter Honey Pig Bread on Canada Reads 2021.

Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer, filmmaker and visual artist. Her writing has appeared in the Malahat Review, Guts and Brittle Paper, and she was longlisted for the 2019 Journey PrizeButter Honey Pig Bread is her first book

Francesca Ekwuyasi on her Canada Reads 2021 book, Butter Honey Pig Bread 13:46

The Night Piece by André Alexis

The Night Piece is a short story collection by André Alexis. (Chris Young/Canadian Press, McClelland & Stewart)

The Night Piece is a collection of career-spanning stories by Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads winner André AlexisAlexis draws from his previous publications, including Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Beauty & Sadness, as well as works that have not been published before. 

Alexis is the author of numerous books, including Fifteen Dogs, which won Canada Reads 2017 and the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Days by Moonlight, which won the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

André Alexis new book is Days by Moonlight. He came into studio to answer The Next Chapter's Proust questionnaire. 5:19

Willie by Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley

Willie is a book by Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley. (Viking, Presley Ann/Getty Images)

In 1958, Willie O'Ree stepped on the ice for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player to play in the NHL. For the next 20 years, he would continue to play, facing racist taunts from fans and fellow players. After he retired from hockey, he would build an even bigger legacy as an advocate for diversity in sport, helping more than 40,000 kids discover the game he loved. Williea memoir written with journalist Michael McKinley, looks back on O'Ree's life, legacy and career.

O'Ree was the first Black player in the NHL. He is also the subject of the documentary WillieWillie is his first book.

Michael McKinley is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter from Vancouver. He is also the author of the nonfiction book Hockey: A People's History and the novel The Penalty Killing.

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, on racism in hockey

The National

5 months ago
9:19
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, reflects on his legacy and the fight against anti-Black racism in hockey. 9:19

Saga Boy by Antonio Michael Downing

Saga Boy is a book by Antonio Michael Downing. (Viking)

Musician and writer Antonio Michael Downing shares his story in the memoir Saga BoyDowning was born in Trinidad and raised there by his grandmother until he was 11 years old — after she dies, he is sent to rural Ontario to live with a strict aunt. There, Downing and his brother are the only Black kids in town. Creative and inquisitive, Downing tries to find himself and escape his difficult home life by imagining different personas. But when he hits rock bottom, and finds himself in jail, he knows it is time to build a life for himself for real, and to embrace his heritage instead of trying to escape it.

Downing is a musician, writer and activist who now lives in Toronto. He published his first book, the novel Molasses, in 2010. In 2017, he was named one of five writers to participate in the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program.

eat salt | gaze at the ocean by Junie Désil

eat salt | gaze at the ocean is a poetry collection by Junie Désil. (Talonbooks)

eat salt | gaze at the ocean is a poetry collection that uses the motif of the Haitian zombie to explore Black sovereignty and Haitian sovereignty, while also sharing Junie Désil's own story of growing up in Canada as the daughter of Haitian immigrants.

Désil is a poet of Haitian descent who was born in Montreal, raised in Winnipeg and now lives in British Columbia. Her work has appeared in Room and Prism. eat salt | gaze at the ocean is her first book.

Black Matters by Afua Cooper & Wilfried Raussert

Black Matters is a book by Canadian historian and author Afua Cooper (pictured) with images by Wilfried Raussert. (Roseway Publishing)

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.

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

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

Poet and activist Cicely Belle Blain on her debut collection of poetry, Burning Sugar. 12:48

Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain

Burning Sugar is a poetry collection by Cicely Belle Blain. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Burning Sugar is a poetry collection that explores Black identity, history and the impact of colonization on Black bodies. Burning Sugar illuminates how systems, society and culture are all structured to reinforce racism. But it also explores and celebrates the nuance and joy in life.

Cicely Belle Blain is a poet and activist from British Columbia. They founded Black Lives Matter Vancouver. CBC Radio named them one of 150 Black women and non-binary people making change across Canada in 2018. Burning Sugar is their first book.

Last night in Toronto, Ian Williams won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his debut novel Reproduction. He joined Tom Power the morning after the awards ceremony to talk about his big win. 13:36

Word Problems by Ian Williams

Word Problems is a book by Ian Williams. (Coach House Books, Justin Morris)

Word Problems is the latest poetry collection by Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning writer Ian Williams. The collection uses unusual tools, including math and grammar, to tackle issues facing contemporary society, such as racial inequality, as well as universal themes like how people connect to and relate to each other.

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.

Ottawa poet Leslie Roach explains how poetry helped her heal from the anger and anxiety of the racist experiences inflicted upon her. 7:39

Finish this Sentence by Leslie Roach

Finish this Sentence is a book by Leslie Roach. (Mawenzi House Publishers)

Finish this Sentence, the first poetry collection by Leslie Roach, is about her personal experiences with racism and the anger and anxiety it ignites within.

Roach is a poet and lawyer from Montreal who currently lives in Ottawa, where she works for the Parliament of Canada. Finish this Sentence is her first book.

Poet Bertrand Bickersteth talks about his new collection The Response of Weeds, which is inspired by his experiences as a Black man in Alberta. 13:08

The Response of Weeds by Bertrand Bickersteth

Bertrand Bickersteth is a Sierra Leone, Alberta-based writer. (NeWest Press)

"Storied soil" is the phrase Bertrand Bickersteth uses to describe his home province of Alberta in his debut poetry collection The Response of Weeds. The collection brings to life the experience of early Black settlers in Western Canada. In The Response of Weeds, Bickersteth relates stories rooted in the prairie landscape, including his own experience growing up as a Black Albertan. He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing the book.

Bickersteth is a poet, author and educator who was born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. 

Jillian Christmas speaks with Stephen Quinn about the Afro-futurism movement and how Black Canadians can shape what this country looks like going forward. 8:45

The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas

The Gospel of Breaking is a book of poetry by Jillian Christmas. (@Haiklue/Twitter.com, Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Gospel of Breaking draws on Jillian Christmas's politics, family history and queer lineage, telling stories of love lost, friendship and community. 

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. CBC Books named Christmas a 2020 writer to watch.

Rising Canadian literary star Canisia Lubrin talks about her new poetry collection The Dyzgraphxst. 11:09

The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin

The Dyzgraphxst is a poetry book by Canisia Lubrin. (Samuel Engelking, McClelland & Stewart)

The Dyzgraphxst is set against the backdrop of contemporary capitalist fascism, nationalism and the climate disaster, where Jejune, the central figure, grapples with understanding their existence and identity.

Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor and teacher. Her debut poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award and the Pat Lowther Award, and was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award.

Valerie Mason-John discusses her stirring and personal poetry collection I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin. 19:17

I Am Still Your Negro by Valerie Mason-John

Valerie Mason-John is an author and public speaker. (The University of Alberta Press, Juan Luis Rod)

In 2016, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro was released in theatres. The doc was based on an unfinished 1979 manuscript by James Baldwin called Remember the House, which was to be the story of America through the lens of the lives of three murdered friends. Poet, author and public speaker Valerie Mason-John watched that documentary and it helped inspire her latest book, I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin. Mason-John's writing speaks truth about the scars and trauma of slavery, sexism and colonization.

Mason-John is a poet from Vancouver.

Kaie Kellough is an award-winning Canadian poet and novelist. As of this week, he's also one of the winners of the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize. Kellough joined Tom Power over Zoom from his home in Montreal to talk about his winning collection of poetry, Magnetic Equator, and what it means to write about a home you've been separated from. 8:08

Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough

Dominoes at the Crossroads is a novel by Kaie Kellough. (Pablo Riquelme, Esplanade Books)

In Dominoes at the CrossroadsKaie Kellough navigates Canada's Caribbean diaspora, through a broad cast of characters who seek music and a connection to their past. They include jazz musicians, hitchhikers, suburbanites, student radicals, secret agents, historians and their fugitive slave ancestors, and their stories stretch from Montreal's Old Port to as far as the South American rainforests. 

Kellough is a writer based in Montreal. His novel Accordéon was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award in 2017. He is also the author of the poetry collection Magnetic Equatorwhich won the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize.

C.L. Polk on her Canada Reads 2021 contender, The Midnight Bargain. 14:06

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

C.L. Polk is the author of the fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain. (Submitted by C.L. Polk/CBC)

As Beatrice makes her debut at "bargaining season" — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages — she harbours secret plans that will upend society in this fantasy novel. Rather than get married, Beatrice plans to bind a greater spirit and become a full magician. 

Olympian and broadcaster Rosey Edeh is championing The Midnight Bargain on Canada Reads 2021. 

C.L. Polk is a fantasy writer from Calgary. They are the author of the novels WitchmarkStormsong and The Midnight BargainWitchmark, their first book, won the 2019 World Fantasy Award for best novel. 

Toronto journalist Desmond Cole talks about his bestselling debut nonfiction book, The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power. 19:15

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 examines one year, 2017, and chronicles Cole's personal journalism, activism and experiences alongside stories that made 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.

 The Skin We're In won the 2020 Toronto Book Award.

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 is his first book.

As protests continue across the United States, Canada is grappling with its own problems of anti-Black racism, including on university campuses. Students of colour can face particular challenges. Eternity Martis knows that first-hand. She recently published a memoir about her time as one of the few Black students at Western University. Martis is the senior editor at Xtra and the author of “They Said this Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up.” 10:06

They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis

They Said This Would Be Fun is a book by Eternity Martis. (McClelland & Stewart, eternitymartis.com)

Eternity Martis was smart, bookish and excited to go to university. But once she got to campus, life wasn't what she imagined. She was often the only student of colour in classes, at parties and in dorms, and had to face racial slurs, students in blackface at parties and more on a regular basis. They Said This Would Be Fun is a memoir about the difficulty of navigating through white spaces as a student of colour and asks us to confront the systemic issues that define the college experience for racialized and marginalized students.

Martis is a Toronto-based journalist, author and senior editor at Xtra. Her work focuses on issues of race and gender and has been featured in Vice, Salon, Hazlitt, TVO.org, the Walrus, Huffington Post and CBC. They Said This Would Be Fun is her first book.

The novelist Tessa McWatt on her award-winning memoir Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging 21:03

Shame on Me by Tessa McWatt

Tessa McWatt is a Guyanese-born Canadian writer based in London. (Christine Mofardin, Random House Canada)

Tessa McWatt was born in Guyana and came to Canada when she was three years old. She grew up in Toronto and spent years living in Montreal, Paris, Ottawa and London. Her heritage is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese. Shame on Me is a memoir about identity, race and belonging by someone who spent a lot of time trying to find an answer to the question, "Who are you?" and who has endured decades of racism and bigotry while trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs.

Shame on Me was on the shortlist for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

McWatt is the author of several works of fiction. Her novels include Dragons CryVital Signs and Higher Ed. She is also the co-editor of the anthology Luminous Ink: Writers on Writing in Canada. Shame on Me is her first work of nonfiction.

Dane Swan is an editor and Charles C. Smith a contributor to the anthology Changing the Face of Canadian Literature, which celebrates writing by diverse voices. 19:09

Changing the Face of Canadian Literature, edited by Dane Swan

Charles C. Smith (left) is an author and poet. Dane Swan is an author and editor. Anthology book Changing the Face of Canadian Literature was published in 2020. (Guernica Editions)

Changing the Face of Canadian Literature is an anthology compiled and edited by writer, spoken word poet and editor Dane Swan. It's a book that highlights and celebrates the work of BIPOC Canadian writers, including Doretta Lau, Ayelet Tsabari, Jael Richardson, Kaie KelloughDoyali Islam and Charles C. Smith.

Swan is a Bermuda-born, Toronto-based spoken word artist, former slam poet, musician, author and editor. Swan's second poetry collection, A Mingus Lullaby, was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in 2017.

The author and award-winning scholar Njoki Wane on her memoir From My Mother's Back: A Journey from Kenya to Canada. 12:57

From My Mother's Back by Njoki Wane

From My Mother's Back is a nonfiction book by Njoki Wane. (Wolsak & Wynn)

Njoki Wane's From My Mother's Back reflects on her childhood living in Kenya where her parents owned a small coffee farm. It explores her African identity and how her upbringing and close relationship with her mother ensured her sense of self as a Black woman.

Wane is a professor at the University of Toronto and a recognized scholar in the areas of Black feminism and African spirituality.

What is the relationship between race and property? That's a question Professor Rinaldo Walcott explores in his new publication "On Property." 8:42

On Property by Rinaldo Walcott

Rinaldo 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. (Biblioasis)

In On Property, author and academic Rinaldo Walcott examines the legacy of indentured servitude and racial slavery and casts an analytical eye on the complex concept of property. The pamphlet book calls for systemic changes and sets forth the argument that owning property should be abolished.

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

Diverlus 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. 22:31

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

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 explores 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.

Mohamed 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. 27:06

Angry Queer Somali Boy by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali

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, who left Somalia as a young man, 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 combines Ali's personal story with the history of and commentary on the places he's called home: Somalia, Europe and Canada. It's his first book.

As the gift-giving season is now upon us, our books columnist, Jael Richardson, joins us to discuss some of her favourite books of this year: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz, and Ties that Tether by Jane Igharo. 9:20

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Ties That Tether is a novel by Jane Igharo. (www.janeigharo.com)

Ties That Tether is about a young woman who must decide between a promise she made her dying father and following her heart. Azere was 12 years old when she told her father she would marry a Nigerian man and honour her family's culture, even after moving to Canada. But then Azere has a one-night stand with a white man she meets in a bar and things surprisingly get serious. Can Azere make it work without betraying her family, or herself?

Jane Igharo came to Canada from Nigeria when she was 12 years old. She currently lives in Toronto. Ties That Tether is her first book.

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