Identity, racial acceptance explored in ​Waterloo region's OBOC 2017 pick

The One Book One Community pick for 2017 for Waterloo region is Wayne Grady's novel Emancipation Day, a book inspired by his own experience. Grady's father was a light-skinned black man who passed as white and kept his heritage a secret for more than 50 years.

Emancipation Day based on story of Grady's father who kept black heritage secret for 50 years

Veteran author Wayne Grady is best known for his compelling writing on science, nature and natural history. Now, his first foray in to fiction, Emancipation Day, has become the One Book One Community selection for Waterloo region for 2017. (Don Denton)

Author Wayne Grady spent the first 50 years of his life thinking he was white.  

It wasn't until he began digging through the archives in Windsor, Ont., that he discovered the truth about his father's heritage. His great-grandfather wasn't Irish. He was African-American.

"I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet," Grady told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris. 

Working through that revelation is what inspired his first foray into fiction, Emancipation Day; the One Book One Community pick for Waterloo region for 2017.

"That's kind of why I started working on the novel, to figure out – for myself – how it changed me or how it affected me. And I eventually realized it didn't really change me at all. I'm still the same person I was before," he said.

"I think I've pretty much decided that it doesn't mean anything, except what society says it means." 

The book is largely inspired by Grady's father's life, who was a trombonist in the Navy band, stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War. A light-skinned African-Canadian, he passed as white most most of his life, never telling anyone – even his wife. 

"He got away with it for his whole life," he said. "They were married for 55 years and my mother had no idea."

The book started out as "a memoir of my parents before I was born," said Grady, but gradually morphed into a novel. 

Hear his full interview with CBC K-W The Morning Edition host Craig Norris:


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