Books

Lawrence Hill, George Elliott Clarke pick young black authors to watch

Six Canadian authors round up the most promising young black voices in the literature world.
George Elliott Clarke is the author of the novel The Motorcyclist. (City of Toronto)

In 1996, Black History Month was celebrated by the government of Canada for the first time. Cabinet member Jean Augustine, the first black woman to be elected to Canadian Parliament, led the charge, introducing a motion in December 1995 to formally recognize the month-long celebration. Her motion was passed unanimously.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, we've asked some of Canada's finest writers to shine the spotlight on young black authors to watch. Scroll down to see their picks, or click here to see a list of the chosen authors' works.

1. George Elliott Clarke recommends Adebe DeRango-Adem

She writes under the name, "Adebe D.A."

She be the MC of Mischievous Consciousness, the

DJ of Damning Justice, the DA of Determined Accounting.

She knows there was a Marine Holocaust — a fire on the water —

that was the African Slave Trade, a Crime Against Humanity

that remains unpunished and unreparationed. She names —

has got to name — the bloody acts, the ruddy facts — of the

oppressors and their isms. The "Terra Incognita" that remains —

the remains — that she explores? Slave cemeteries, African

villages, Southern sites of KKK Terrorism....Here's a poetry after

Amiri Baraka, after Kamau Brathwaite, after Wayde Compton,

that prefers Fanon to Obama, that unveils the "Negress" in

"nigrescence," the "Mulatta" in "malleable," the "bloody root"

that bears "Strange Fruit." Gotta love this wide-ranging riffing

on defiant definitions of unspeakable histories and unspoken

hardships. There's "bones and stink" — Yeatsian — in this jazz;

there's "Pythagorean gore" — Nietzschian — in this blues. Damn

it all to Hell: Yo's face-to-face, eardrum-and-eye-flute, with

Pan-African, verbal voodoo, here, folks: Transformative!

2. Esi Edugyan recommends Chigozie Obioma

Chigozie Obioma's exquisite first novel is mythic in its implications. Set in small-town Nigeria in the 1990s, it follows Benjamin, one of four brothers living in Akura. They spend most of their days fishing at the Omi-Ala River. One afternoon, they meet a local outcast. He knows one of the brothers' names, though he has never before met them. Ranting, he delivers a terrible prophecy: the eldest of them will be killed by one of his brothers. Are these the ravings of a madman, or will such a tragedy actually come to pass? And if it does, who will be the killer?

The Fishermen dazzles as both allegory and political commentary — above all, though, it is virtuosic storytelling. It is a fine beginning in what promises to be a great career.

3. Lawrence Hill recommends Craig Shreve

I recommend One Night in Mississippi by author Craig Shreve. He writes swiftly, competently, engagingly about important issues.

4. Austin Clarke recommends David Chariandy

In his first novel, Soucouyant, David Chariandy established his literary prowess. I'm proud by his brilliant declaration of talent as a young black writer in his upcoming (2017) novel, Brother. It shows the literary genius of the novelist to watch. I welcome his success as a powerful Canadian author.

5. Pamela Mordecai recommends Vladimir Lucien

Vladimir Lucien is a 28-year-old St. Lucian poet whose first collection of poetry, Sounding Ground, won Trinidad's 2015 OCM BOCAS Prize. His poems are hefty, accomplished and underived, rooted in the Creole cultures [sic — there are two] of his home island, enjoying its orality and deploying its languages with aplomb. And — eureka! — the poems have none of the determined inaccessibility that discourages the ordinary reader. If one of these days he finds himself, like Yevtushenko, reading poems to arenas filled with thousands, I won't be surprised.

6. Jael Richardson recommends Jay Pitter

Jay Pitter's essay "Designing Dignified Social Housing" appears in the forthcoming anthology Subdivided: City-Building in an Age of Hyper-Diversity, shedding light on the indignity of affordable housing through the heartbreaking account of a young woman who was tragically murdered after joining a prostitute ring in the neighbourhood where Pitter grew up. Pitter's writing exposes the oversight inherent in city-building strategies that ignore the marginalized voices of the people who reside in social housing, strategies that create harmful stigmas that threaten human dignity. But the essay is a call to action for all of us as well. It reminds us of the ways we overlook and undervalue our fellow citizens — people who desire something we all long for, a safe place to live that truly feels like home. I can't wait for Pitter's first full-length project.

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