Books

4 young poets from the anthology series Dreams in Vantablack share their favourite books

The animated series Dreams in Vantablack is a poetic anthology featuring young Black Canadian poets who reveal their truths. The 12-part series of films will premiere Sept. 22 at the Toronto International Festival of Authors and on CBC Gem starting Sept. 29.
Jenn Kasiama, left, Furqan Mohamed, Jesse June-Jack and Eva Anthony are four Ontario poets from the CBC Gem series Dreams in Vantablack. (Dreams in Vantablack)

The animated series Dreams in Vantablack is a poetic anthology featuring Ontario-based Black youth poets who reveal their truths. 

Journeying through the dreams of 12 Black youth poets, the film explores issues such as bullying, racism, mental health, loss and love.

The 12-part series will screen on Sept. 22 at the Toronto International Festival of Authors and on CBC Gem starting Sept. 29.

CBC Books asked four young poets from the series about the book they are reading. See their answers below.

Jenn Kasiama recommends Either/Or by Elif Batuman and Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Jenn Kasiama is an Ontario poet from the CBC Gem series Dreams in Vantablack. (Dreams in Vantablack, Penguin Press, Penguin Classics)

"Either/Or is the sequel to Batuman's novel, The Idiot, and both books have given me solace as I've struggled to find my identity as a young adult. In Either/Or, the primary heroine, Selin, has grown more resilient and inquisitive as she navigates college life and growing pains. In a way that no other author can match, Batuman penetrates the everyday experiences of young people with tenderness, humour and lasting appeal.

In a way that no other author can match, Batuman penetrates the everyday experiences of young people with tenderness, humour and lasting appeal.- Jenn Kasiama

"An amazing collection of essays written in an episodic, lyrical and visceral style can be found in Sister Outsider. It is as though [Audre] Lorde has let us access her heart.

"Readers shouldn't skip this book because it has emotional and compelling content that is still relevant today. There is optimism despite Lorde's hardships. I think it is one of the best collections I have ever read, and I adore it for its genuine prose and honest truths."

Jennifer Kasiama, 19, is a student at OCAD University and splits her time between Hamilton and Toronto. Finding inspiration through nature, music and colour she activates her creativity with mood-boards and daydreaming the hours away.

In Kasiama's Dreams in Vantablack poem, I Spy, a young Jenn finds a bottle of skin lightening cream which takes her on a fantastical adventure which teaches her about colourism and helps her find confidence within herself.


Furqan Mohamed recommends No Language Is Neutral by Dionne Brand

Furqan Mohamed is an Ontario poet from the CBC Gem series Dreams in Vantablack. (McClelland & Stewart, Dreams in Vantablack)

"As one of my favourite writers, Dionne Brand has always reckoned with colonialism, empire, immigration, and more in her writing, but this small collection explicitly treats migration in the way I think it should be, with nuance, challenging Canadian cliches of the 'melting pot' and the 'multicultural mosaic.' 

"The short number of pages can be misleading, as it's certainly not an easy read and is worth working through, over and over. 

"While reading, I often saw myself in the speaker of the poems. The opening poem urges, 'this is you girl,' reminding me that 'this' (displacement, diasporic unease and sense of self) is 'something never waning or forgetting.' I gasped in awe at certain word choices and recognized and smiled knowingly when noticing others. Ironically, I feel as though this is a quintessential Canadian (maybe more so Torontonian) text, while no excuses are made for borders in this collection.

"There is a familiar story in these poems, with the experiences of the speaker of the poems mirroring the experiences of those from the African and Caribbean diaspora. Still, it is the people, particularly women, who are romanticized and heralded in the text, not the often fetishized story of 'good' or even interesting immigrants, underscoring just how much this is a collection about life and love, just as it is about location. 

There is a familiar story in these poems, with the experiences of the speaker of the poems mirroring the experiences of those from the African and Caribbean diaspora.- Furqan Mohamed

"In her words, Brand challenges older themes I believe we can take for granted while nodding towards revolution and offers new ways of thinking about 'identity,' 'nation,' and the language we use to describe them and, in relation, ourselves. 

"With current conflicts and ongoing trauma caused by war and climate change, I think we need more poetry like this, works that not only understand but address land, people, movement and migration as varied and layered experiences."

Furqan Mohamed, 18, is a Black Muslim, student, writer, poet and activist. Her work focuses primarily on issues surrounding culture, politics, and social justice. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, with a double major in English and Women and Gender Studies.

Her poem, Bag Lady, explores womanhood, generational knowledge and coming-of-age through inanimate objects.


Jesse June-Jack recommends The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Jesse June-Jack is an Ontario poet from the CBC Gem series Dreams in Vantablack. (Dreams in Vantablack, Orbit)

It starts with the Great Red Rift, across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal and long-dormant wounds rising up to fester.

"This is the synopsis to N.K Jemisin's Hugo Award-winning novel, The First Season. It is the first of three books widely known as the Broken Earth trilogy. And whilst its synopsis may read cataclysmic and downtrodden, the story is much more complicated and nuanced. Jemisin's story is set in a fantastical world, but its structure feels much more relatable to ours than first assumed.

"Her writing analyzes the intricacies of culture, the impact of ecological disaster, the tyranny of systemic racism and otherness as well as the chaos such hatred can create.

"In the middle of this upheaval is Essun, a woman looking for her daughter after finding her son murdered by her husband in a far-away village. Essun's journey spans decades, reaching into the near future and the far distant past, a past she has longed to forget. Essun, as a Black female protagonist, averts many stereotypical depictions and stands tall as a multifaceted, layered person who simply wishes to do right by her family, though the world despises her efforts at every turn. 

Her writing analyzes the intricacies of culture, the impact of ecological disaster, the tyranny of systemic racism and otherness as well as the chaos such hatred can create.- Jesse June-Jack

"Her and many other central characters are written superbly by Jemisin, and they feel lived in with such lyrical beauty that it enriches their decisions and relationships, however complex they may be.

"Jemisin also possesses an uncanny mastery of personification. She gives things that do not live and breathe more personality than most human protagonists in other books. One may merely assume that this book is a showcase of that skill, but Jemisin is much cleverer than that, integrating these 'obelisks' – rocks of immense mystical power – into the story and placing them front and centre. 

"To say more would be to ruin the experience. And it is an experience.

"I most recommend you take, blindly if you can. Jemisin's tale of power, love, and the soul is an enthralling, action-packed, masterful creation that threatens to whisk you away into a broken world full of pain, joy, and even hope. The Fifth Season may be the first book in a trilogy, but like many masterful stories, stands on its own as a titan of exemplary storytelling."

Jesse June-Jack, 17, is a recent immigrant from Nigeria who draws on the power of his ancestors to find pride and honour in his heritage and skin. While moving to Canada was a positive, life affirming experience, he also finds himself battling several forms of racism.

His Dreams in Vantablack poem, The Trees Sing..., is an ode to mother earth and acts as a call to action to each of us to do our part to save the planet.


Eva Anthony recommends Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Eva Anthony is an Ontario poet from the CBC Gem series Dreams in Vantablack. (Balzer + Bray, CBC)

"One of the best books I have read and think everybody should read is Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. The book is about a girl whose brother is missing. After she finds a mysterious suitcase in his room, it leads her on a magical path to try and find her brother whom she still feels is alive.

This book had the best combination of mystery, magic and the lead character is a Black girl like me.- Eva Anthony

"This book had the best combination of mystery, magic and the lead character is a Black girl like me. The main character Amari reminded me of myself and my love for adventure.

"The book was well written with vivid descriptions that helped me to imagine each part of the story and at times I felt like I was Amari in some moments.  The scenes were written so well that I really felt myself in each location. I loved that the book started with a mystery at the beginning, leading me as the reader to solve the mystery as I read through the story; that part was fun and got me really into the story.

"I think people should read Amari and the Night Brothers if they like magic, mystery and finding themselves in magical worlds. This book makes you feel like you have power in real life.

"I felt more confident reading Amari, because if she could overcome her fears and solve the mystery of her lost brother, I too can do anything."

Eva Anthony, 9, is a poet, actor and budding self-help guru. The child of working artists, she is in tune to how the arts can be a catalyst for change. Her Dreams in Vantablack poem Advice is a list of helpful directions to assist anyone going through everyday struggles.


Five fists raise, each with different coloured skin, with the words "Being Black in Canada" next to them with a colourful border

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.

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