6 Black Canadian writers to watch in 2023
CBC Books is highlighting six Black Canadian writers who are making their mark.
D.M. Bradford is a poet, editor and organizer based in Montreal. His work has appeared in The Capilano Review, The Tiny, The Fiddlehead and Carte Blanche. He is a founding editor of House House Press.
Bradford's debut poetry collection, Dream of No One But Myself, brings together prose poems, verse and photographs to examine the experience and challenges of growing up in a "troubled" mixed-race family in Montreal's South Shore neighbourhood. 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.
"I think there's a lot of pressure to perform and describe your difference to white and cishet audiences. And it's hard to resist that, I think, when you're just starting out. But I would tell them to be patient with themselves — that interest is still going to be there. Trust yourself and go with it and the thing that comes out at the other end is going to be [the result of] the time you spent on yourself and the writing," Bradford told CBC Books in 2022.
In 2023, new works from Bradford include Bottom Rail on Top, a hybrid poetry collection focused on Black histories of antebellum life, and House Within a House, a French translation of Chilean-born Quebec queer poet Nicholas Dawson's Désormais, ma demeure.
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 a novella. Her first novel with a major publisher is Hold My Girl.
Hold My Girl is a dual narrative novel about two women, Katherine and Tess, whose eggs are switched during IVF.
"Hold My Girl stemmed from [my] experience of having IVF — and having my daughter being born and visibly not looking like me. I'm a mixed-race Black woman and she was paler than my white husband ... we couldn't see any of her in me," Carr told Shelagh Rogers in an upcoming The Next Chapter interview. "I was starting to write my next novel and this idea came to me. I thought this would be an incredible story if my fear had come true."
The novel, which explores the complexities of love, motherhood and racial identity, was optioned in 2022 by production company Blink49 Studios for a series adaptation.
Kern Carter is a Toronto author and freelance writer. He has written and self-published books including the novella Thoughts of a Fractured Soul and the novel Beauty Scars.
Carter is the author of the YA novel Boys and Girls Screaming. The DCB-published book follows a teen named Ever who 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's YA novel Boys and Girls Screaming is a thoughtful mix of empathy, entertainment and emotion
"I wanted to get people to think about what motherhood is, what parenting is and what love is, when it comes to mother-daughter or mother-child relationships," Carter told CBC Books in 2022.
A self-described "superstar author," Carter has writing credits in Forbes, the New York Times, Global Citizen, Elle Magazine and Fatherly.com and regularly offers literary thoughts and advice for emerging writers on Substack.
Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian Canadian YA author based in Toronto. She grew up in Lagos. Her debut novel, Blood Scion was published in 2022 and was influenced by Yoruba culture.
Blood Scion is a YA fantasy novel about a teen named Sloane who 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.
"While working on the book in 2014, these young girls were kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria," Falaye told CBC Books in 2023. "It sparked this global campaign called Bring Back Our Girls. I was at York University at the time and I believe I was in my third-year social psychology class. The teacher looked at me and said, 'You're Nigerian. Can you give some perspective on this?'"
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.
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.
"My overall intention was for people to understand that Black people have been in Canada for a very long time. I wanted people to understand there's been a Black experience, over centuries, in Canada. Cyril discovered Edward's history and in so doing helped readers to learn about this Black history in Canada," Murray told CBC Books in 2022.
Kai 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. His first novel, In the Upper Country, was published in January to national and international reviews.
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. This interaction reveals an extraordinary range of stories, secrets and untold histories, including those of Black refugee communities and Indigenous nations around the Great Lakes.
"In my lived experience, I have ample evidence of Black and Indigenous people connecting and having relationships and political alliances...I tried to represent these characters who are marginalized or oppressed as powerful agents of their own experience and who are capable of all of the things that the humans inflicting violence on other people are," Thomas told The Next Chapter in 2023.
LISTEN | Kai Thomas talks about the inspiration behind In The Upper Country:
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.
- This post was updated to reflect an author's change of name.May 10, 2023 3:10 PM ET
- This post has been updated to reflect the correct title for Nicholas Dawson's Désormais, ma demeure.Feb 02, 2023 5:10 PM ET
- This post has been updated to include the correct title for the production company Blink49 Studios.Feb 07, 2023 5:01 PM ET