40 books by Black Canadian authors to read
Here are 40 notable books by Black Canadian authors to read this month (and every month).
Invisible Boy is a memoir by Harrison Mooney that details his adoption into an evangelical white family and navigating zealotry, paranoia and prejudice. Born to a West African mother, he was merely an infant when he was adopted. He grew up as a Black child in a fundamentalist revivalist church and was constantly abused for the colour of his skin. Twenty-five years later, his biological mom told her son the truth: she wanted to keep him. Invisible Boy examines the controversial practice of transracial adoption.
Mooney is a writer and journalist who has worked for nearly a decade at the Vancouver Sun. He was born to a West African mother and adopted as an infant by a white family in British Columbia's Bible belt. He has also been published in the National Post, the Guardian, Yahoo and Macleans. Mooney lives in East Vancouver.
LISTEN | Harrison Mooney discusses Invisible Boy:
The Day-Breakers is an homage to the sacrifice of the Black Canadian soldiers who fought for the Union during the American Civil War. These poems capture their voices and the era in which they lived, providing a new perspective on Black history.
Michael Fraser is a poet and writer. He has been published in several anthologies and his books include To Greet Yourself Arriving and The Serenity of Stone. Fraser won the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize for the poem African Canadian in Union Blue.
LISTEN | Michael Fraser reflects on winning the CBC Poetry Prize:
In her first poetry collection in over nine years, Lorna Goodison highlights two "mothers" in Jamaican music in Mother Muse. Sister Mary Ignatius, who nurtured many of Jamaica's most gifted musicians, and dancer Anita "Margarita" Mahfood are the figures at the centre of this collection.
Goodison is one of Canada's most renowned writers. She was Jamaica's poet laureate from 2017 to 2020. Over the past 40 years, Goodison has written 14 books of poetry, including Collected Poems, and an award-winning memoir From Harvey River, which won the 2008 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and was a finalist for both the Trillium Book Award and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. She was awarded the 2019 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for her body of work.
LISTEN | Lorna Goodison discusses Mother Muse:
In the poetry collection Each One a Furnace, Tolu Oloruntoba explores the behaviour of finches and finds themes of migration, diaspora and restlessness in his poetry. The migrations of these diverse birds — traversing urban and rural landscapes, historical and contemporary contexts — add layers to the experience of what it means to live within, outside and between cultures.
Oloruntoba is a writer from Nigeria who now lives in B.C. His first full-length poetry collection, The Junta of Happenstance, won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the founder of the literary magazine Klorofyl and author of the chapbook Manubrium, which was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Oloruntoba was named a "writer to watch" by CBC Books in 2022.
LISTEN | Tolu Oloruntoba on winning the Griffin Poetry Prize:
Nomenclature by Dionne Brand collects eight volumes of the celebrated poet and author's work that were originally published between 1982 and 2010. With a critical introduction by the literary scholar and theorist Christina Sharpe, the book features a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the Time Being, which is a thoughtful and wide-ranging reflection on location, consciousness, time and the current state of the world.
Brand is an award-winning poet and novelist from Toronto. She won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Trillium Book Award for her 1997 collection Land to Light On. Her collection thirsty won the 2003 Pat Lowther Award. In 2009, she served as the poet laureate of Toronto. Her novel What We All Long For won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2006. She won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Ossuaries and in 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada.
LISTEN | The Next Chapter columnist Ryan B. Patrick shares why you should read Nomenclature:
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.
LISTEN | Jasmine Sealy discusses The Island of Forgetting:
In Uncertain Kin, a collection of linked stories, Janice Lynn Mather introduces us to the women and girls of The Bahamas. Searching for identity and belonging during moments of upheaval, these complex characters are intimately familiar. From the responsibilities of parenthood to grief, longing and betrayal, the stories of Uncertain Kin grapple with what it means to be a woman.
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.
LISTEN | Janice Lynn Mather talks to Shelagh Rogers about Uncertain Kin:
The Sleeping Car Porter tells the story of Baxter, a Black man in 1929 who works as a sleeping car porter on a train that travels across the country. He smiles and tries to be invisible to the passengers, but what he really wants is to save up and go to dentistry school. On one particular trip out west, the train is stalled and Baxter finds a naughty postcard of two gay men. The postcard reawakens his memories and longings and puts his job in jeopardy.
LISTEN | Suzette Mayr reacts to winning the Giller Prize:
Junie is a novel about Junie, a creative and observant child, who moves to Hogan's Alley in the 1930s with her mother. Hogan's Alley is a thriving Black immigrant community in Vancouver's east end and Junie quickly makes meaningful relationships. As she moves into adulthood, Junie explores her artistic talents and sexuality, but her mother sinks further into alcoholism and the thriving neighbourhood once filled with potential begins to change.
Chelene Knight is a writer and poet from Vancouver. She is the author of Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award.
LISTEN | Chelene Knight talks to Shelagh Rogers about Junie:
Finding Edward is a novel about a man, Cyril Rowntree, who discovers letters from the 1920s that reveal the story of a white mother who gave up her mixed race son, Edward, for adoption. Cyril has recently moved to Toronto from Jamaica and was abandoned by his own white father, so Edward's story intrigues him, and he begins to search for Edward, and the truth about what happened to him. This journey of personal discovery is also one of Canada's Black history.
Sheila Murray is a writer born and raised in England who now lives in Hamilton, Ont. Finding Edward, her first novel, was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and was named one of the best works of Canadian fiction in 2022 by CBC Book and was on the Canada Reads 2023 longlist. CBC Books named Murray a writer to watch in 2023.
LISTEN | Why you should read Finding Edward:
In the YA fantasy novel Blood Scion, a teen named Sloane discovers she is a superpowered Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods. But when she is forced to join the army under a brutal warlord, Sloane realizes she has an opportunity to use her magical powers to defeat the enemy from within.
Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian Canadian YA author based in Toronto. She grew up in Lagos, where she spent her time devouring African literature, pestering her grandma for folktales and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. Blood Scion is her debut novel.
In the YA novel Boys and Girls Screaming, a teen named Ever is coping with the sudden death of her father. Ever decides to form a support group called Boys and Girls Screaming for kids who have suffered trauma. But while the other students share their stories and find solace, Ever is driven deeper into depression and hits her breaking point. It's up to the group to set Ever onto a path of healing.
Kern Carter is a Toronto author and freelance writer. He has written and self-published two books — the novella Thoughts of a Fractured Soul and the novel Beauty Scars. Carter also has writing credits in Forbes, the New York Times, Global Citizen, Elle Magazine and Fatherly.com. CBC Books named Carter a writer to watch in 2023.
Dream of No One but Myself is a poetry collection that combines prose poems, verse and collages of family photos cut-up to showcase what it was like growing up in a troubled family. In Dream of No One but Myself, David Bradford presents an unstable, frayed account of family inheritance, intergenerational traumas and domestic tenderness.
Bradford is a poet, editor and organizer based in Montreal. His work has appeared in The Capilano Review, The Tiny, The Fiddlehead, Carte Blanche and elsewhere. He is a founding editor of House House Press. His poetry collection Dream of No One But Myself won the 2022 A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry; it also was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry, was shortlisted for the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize, and was longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best debut book. CBC Books named Bradford a writer to watch in 2023.
LISTEN | David Bradford on Q:
Hold My Girl is a dual narrative novel about two women, Katherine and Tess, whose eggs are switched during IVF. Hold My Girl, which explores the complexities of love, motherhood and racial identity, was optioned in 2023 by production company Blink Studios for a series adaptation.
- Kai Thomas's novel In the Upper Country is a fresh take on Black Canadian history & the Underground Railroad
Charlene Carr is a Toronto-raised writer and author based in Nova Scotia whose work explores truth in fiction. She is the author of several independently published novels and novellas. Hold My Girl is her first novel with a major publisher. CBC Books named Carr a writer to watch in 2023.
Kai Thomas's debut novel, In the Upper Country, is a fictional portrayal of mid-19th century southern Ontario through the eyes of a young Black journalist.
When a woman escaping the U.S. through the Underground Railroad kills a slave hunter, Lensinda is enlisted to interview her from jail. Instead of providing her testimony, the old woman proposes an exchange: a story for a story. The deal seems mundane enough, except their back-and-forth soon reveals an extraordinary range of stories, secrets and untold histories, including those of Black refugee communities and Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes.
Thomas is a writer, carpenter and land steward. Born and raised in Ottawa, he is of Black and mixed heritage descended from Trinidad and the British Isles. In the Upper Country is his first novel. CBC Books named Thomas a Black writer to watch in 2023.
LISTEN | Kai Thomas on The Next Chapter:
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 former 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.
LISTEN | Jael Richardson on Gutter Child:
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.
Butter Honey Pig Bread was on the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for fiction. Roger Mooking championed 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 Prize. Butter Honey Pig Bread is her first book.
LISTEN | Francesca Ekwuyasi on Butter Honey Pig Bread:
The Night Piece is a collection of career-spanning stories by Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads winner André Alexis. Alexis 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.
- Staying focused on craft is why André Alexis completed quincunx exploring faith, place, love, power and hatred
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.
LISTEN | André Alexis takes the Proust Questionnaire:
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. Willie, a 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 Willie. Willie 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.
WATCH | The legacy of Willie O'Ree:
Musician and writer Antonio Michael Downing shares his story in the memoir Saga Boy. Downing 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.
LISTEN | Antonio Michael Downing discusses Saga Boy:
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.
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.
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.
LISTEN | Cicely Belle Blain discusses Burning Sugar:
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.
LISTEN | Ian Williams reflects on how we talk about race:
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.
- Leslie Roach explains how poetry helped her heal from the anger and anxiety of the racist experiences inflicted upon her
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.
"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.
- Bertrand Bickersteth's The Response of Weeds poetically explores the Black Canadian experience in full bloom
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.
The Gospel of Breaking draws on Jillian Christmas's politics, family history and queer lineage, telling stories of love lost, friendship and community.
- Why the poetry of Jillian Christmas examines the realities of Black queerness, femininity 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.
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.
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.
- Valerie Mason-John's I Am Still Your Negro uses social justice poetry to explore why society hasn't changed
Mason-John is a poet and public speaker from Vancouver.
In Dominoes at the Crossroads, Kaie 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 novelist, poet and sound performer. His short fiction collection Dominoes at the Crossroads was on the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, was a runner-up for a Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2021 and was on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist. Kellough won the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize for his third poetry collection, Magnetic Equator. His debut novel Accordéon was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award in 2017.
In The Midnight Bargain, Beatrice is making her debut at "bargaining season" — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages. But she harbours secret plans that will upend society. Rather than get married, Beatrice plans to bind a greater spirit and become a full magician.
- C.L. Polk hopes The Midnight Bargain will 'shine a light on the power of science fiction and fantasy'
C.L. Polk is a fantasy writer from Calgary. They are the author of the novels Witchmark, Stormsong and The Midnight Bargain. Witchmark, their first book, won the 2019 World Fantasy Award for best novel.
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.
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.
LISTEN | Desmond Cole discusses The Skin We're In:
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, editor and academic. 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. Martis s a juror for the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize.
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.
- How life in a Trumpian, post-Brexit world prompted Tessa McWatt to explore race and identity in her new memoir
McWatt is the author of several works of fiction. Her novels include Dragons Cry, Vital 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.
LISTEN | Tessa McWatt discusses Shame on Me:
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 Kellough, Doyali 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.
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.
- Njoki Wane's memoir From My Mother's Back is a story of Black resilience and developing a strong sense of self
Wane is a professor at the University of Toronto and a recognized scholar in the areas of Black feminism and African spirituality. From My Mother's Back was on the Canada Reads 2022 longlist.
LISTEN | Njoki Wane discusses From My Mother's Back:
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.
- Biblioasis launching Field Notes, a new series of 'short take' books that will respond to current events
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.
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.
LISTEN | Rodney Diverlus on Black Lives Matter and living as a black man today:
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.
LISTEN | Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali discusses Angry Queer Somali Boy:
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.
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.