Books

Zalika Reid-Benta writing novel titled River Mumma, to be published in 2023

The Toronto author Zalika Reid-Benta has announced the follow-up to her acclaimed debut book Frying Plantain, part of a two-book deal with Penguin Canada.
Zalika Reid-Benta is a Toronto-based author. (Michele Comeau)

Zalika Reid-Benta has announced the follow-up to her acclaimed debut book Frying Plantain.

The Toronto author announced that her next book, River Mumma, is a novel "years in the making — exploring the diaspora experience in Toronto through this lens."

River Mumma is described as a "magical realist story" inspired by Jamaican folklore. The main character is a young Black woman having a quarter-life crisis, while adventuring through the streets of Toronto.

"A key aspect of my next novel is the incorporation of Jamaican legends with the Toronto cityscape for a different exploration of the diaspora experience," said Reid-Benta on Instagram.

"Namely my characters encounter #rivermumma, a mythical figure said to protect the waters of Jamaica and guard a golden table that could lead poor mortals to their doom."

The novel is due in spring 2023. It's the first of two books Reid-Benta will be publishing with Penguin Canada.

"River Mumma shines an important spotlight on the Caribbean-Canadian experience," said Deborah Sun de la Cruz, editor at Penguin Canada.

"It is dazzling, inventive, and powerful — storytelling at its best."

Reid-Benta released her first book, the short story collection Frying Plantain, in 2019. The widely acclaimed book is made up of interconnected stories from the life of a young Black woman named Kara Davis. 

It examines race, class and identity as Kara explores how her Jamaican heritage fits into her identity in Toronto. 

"When I first started writing, I was all about theme and wanting to talk about intergenerational cycles. My mentor at the time was George Elliot Clarke and he told me to focus on the writing, to trust that the themes will come out on their own," said Reid-Benta in an interview with CBC Books.

"I ended up not thinking about theme and thinking more about character and about dialogue. I usually start with dialogue — it's my most favourite thing to write."

Frying Plantain won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Literary Fiction and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Reid-Benta is an alumnus of Columbia University and Banff Centre Writing Studio. She is the chair of the five-person jury for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

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