Books·My Life in Books

5 books that 21 Black Futures playwright and poet Syrus Marcus Ware loved reading

The Toronto-based poet and writer of Emmett shares the books he loved reading. 21 Black Futures is now streaming on CBC Gem.

21 Black Futures now streaming on CBC Gem

Syrus Marcus Ware is Toronto-based artist, writer and activist. (Jalani Morgan)

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Black, transgender, disabled artist, activist and scholar based in Toronto.

The 21 Black Futures production Emmett was written by Syrus Marcus Ware, directed by Tanisha Taitt and performed by Prince Amponsah (pictured). (CBC)

Ware is a contributor to 21 Black Futures, a new anthology series featuring 63 Black Canadian playwrights, directors and performers addressing the question, "What is the future of Blackness?"

Presented by CBC Arts in partnership with Obsidian Theatre Company, 21 Black Futures premiered on CBC Gem on Feb. 12. Subsequent episodes will be released on Feb. 19 and Feb. 26.

Ware's contribution to the 21 Black Futures anthology series is titled Emmett. Written by Ware, directed by Tanisha Taitt and performed by Prince Amponsah, Emmett is a monodrama that looks at a speculative future impacted by a virus and climate change — as a person named Medgar makes his way along the shores of the Great Ontario Sea and remembers his lost love Emmett.

Ware talked to CBC Books about the books they loved reading.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler was a California-based science fiction author. (Cheung Ching Ming, Grand Central Publishing)

"I love this book. I reread this book every couple of years. I've even had a couple of quotes from the book tattooed on my body. 

"I think it speaks to the now in such an important way. It is one of those prescient novels that predicted a future. Octavia Butler was writing it in the early 1990s, and she was able to predict in 2021 — which is so eerily exact and surprising — that there would be a right-wing leaning presidential hopeful whose campaign slogan is 'Make America Great Again.' 

I reread this book every couple of years. I've even had a couple of quotes from the book tattooed on my body.

"She was able to predict the conditions of white supremacy and violence we're seeing in the now in such a beautiful way. 

"What's important about Parable of the Sower is that it's an unlikely hero that ends up taking us through a journey of ultimately finding safety in the world. It's a Black disabled woman who is the person who is able to bring people together —  to form a community and to resist the violence of the state. The book is an opportunity for us to reimagine who our heroes are and to also to start thinking for ourselves how we might survive in a post apocalyptic future."

Beyond Survival, edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha 

Beyond Survival is a nonfiction book published in 2020. (AK Press, Jesse Manuel)

"This is a beautiful compilation of stories from the transformative justice movement. Transformative justice of this idea that, rather than trying to reform or change a system that is not working, we could transform society and reimagine it all together in ways that actually create safety and security. 

This is a beautiful compilation of stories from the transformative justice movement.

"These stories of transformative justice, all across Turtle Island, are these beautiful inspirations for people who are interested in learning more about abolition and about how to solve conflict without relying on the state or the police to be involved. 

"These stories offer a way forward."

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)

"I edited this book with Rodney Diverlus and Sandy Hudson. This book was a labour of love that came out of our community. Our community members came together to write and tell stories of Blackness here in this part of Turtle Island to tell stories of what it's like to be Black. They talk about mothering in the movement. They talk about organizing and digital activism in this online world that we find ourselves in to talk about abolition. 

This book was a labour of love that came out of our community.

"There are these contributions from elders, from youth, from folks inside and outside prison. It's this beautiful compilation of what it means to be black in this moment in Canada and to be involved in revolutionary change." 

Brilliant Imperfection by Eli Clare 

Eli Clare is a poet, essayist and activist. (Samuel Lurie, Duke University Press)

"One of the things that we've seen during this pandemic is more and more people are turning to disability justice to understand and think through how we're going to take care of each other. These are people practicing caremongering and mutual aid and community and collective care. 

These are people practicing caremongering and mutual aid and community and collective care.

"Clare's work is a critical analysis of the medical industrial complex, exploring disability justice and thinking through disability at this moment in this decade."

Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico

The Rainbow Goblins is a picture book first published in 1978. (Thames and Hudson)

"This was my favourite child story as a kid. It tells the story of these goblins that try to drain the colours of the rainbow. But the plants are able to hear the plot of the goblins and they're able to tell the rainbow, just in time, to pull up from the earth so the goblins can't drain the colour. So that's why the rainbow doesn't touch the earth and is just hovering above the sky. 

I loved this idea that the plants could talk to us and that the plants and nature were connected.

"This was one of the books that made me want to become an artist because the illustrations were so incredibly beautiful and the colours were so saturated. I would ask my mother, who's a visual artist as well, to read me that book over and over again. I love looking at the pictures. 

"I loved this idea that the plants could talk to us and that the plants and nature were connected. It definitely speaks to me as an artist, still to this day."

Syrus Marcus Ware's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Watch the trailer for 21 Black Futures 

21 Black Futures trailer

27 days ago
1:44
Presented by Obsidian Theatre and CBC Arts, 21 Black Futures premieres Friday, February 12 on CBC Gem. 1:44

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