Nova Scotia

New scholarship at Saint Mary's to support students of African Nova Scotian descent

Saint Mary's will offer a new scholarship for students of African Nova Scotian descent aiming for careers in writing.

Edna and Velma Thomas Kane award is named after mother, aunt of Floyd Kane

Floyd Kane is behind a new scholarship at Saint Mary's to encourage students of African Nova Scotian descent to pursue writing. (Robert Short/CBC)

Saint Mary's University will offer a new scholarship for students of African Nova Scotian descent aiming for careers in writing.

The scholarship opens for applications this Wednesday.

The Edna and Velma Thomas Kane award is named after the mother and aunt of Floyd Kane. He created the scholarship to honour the two of them for always supporting his love of writing.

Kane, the creator of Diggstown, said he created this $30,000 award for a student in their graduating year at Saint Mary's. It will give them an opportunity he didn't have —  to choose a career in writing without worrying about debt and having a profitable job.

Applications open Sept. 1.

To talk about the award and what it could do for the chosen recipient, Kane spoke with Portia Clark on CBC Radio's Information Morning on Aug. 26. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you want to create an award like this?

I always hoped to be in a position to be able to honour my mom and my late aunt, who were two women who really helped shape my path in life.

Why did you want to honour them in this way? What role did they play so importantly in your life and your career path?

Well, I grew up in a modest household. She always inspired me to look at life and go, like, pursue your dreams, reach for the stars, don't settle for second, never give up. She always instilled that sense of just determination and ambition.

My aunt, Velma, gave me a Smith Corona typewriter when I was in Grade 7 and I learned to type on that typewriter. She is the reason why I have the love of writing. 

You're seeing an absence of that kind of encouragement or maybe when you talk to people, do you hear, 'Oh, writing is a difficult life for anyone to get in, but maybe especially as an African Nova Scotian?'

What I would say is I think that writing as a profession is very difficult to get into. And it is not just simply creative writing, but like academic writing.

What I wanted to do was remove the economic disincentive to pursue a career as a writer. I think for me, when I was coming up, I was very fortunate because I worked full time throughout university. I'd gotten a couple of scholarships during undergrad. I was going to SMU.

It just seemed to me like this was an opportunity for me to say, 'If you are a Black Nova Scotian and you want to pursue a career as a writer, we're going to remove the financial barrier from the equation.'

Would that [scholarship] have made a difference for you?

What it would have done for me is … I would like to think it would have accelerated my path, because, to be quite frank, I may have decided to not become a lawyer first.

You went to law school for practical reasons?

Yeah. One hundred per cent. I'd always wanted to be a writer. I'd been writing since I was in Grade 7. I had a play produced when I was 19. I was going SMU and I was taking commerce as well as my degree.

When I had the play produced, I immediately switched into arts, and that really was a great decision for me. But I also recognized that because I had grown up poor, I wanted to be in a financial position that if someone in my family needed financial assistance, I'd be able to help them in some way.

Law, from my perspective, was a way of guaranteeing that I wouldn't be poor. I'd be able to make a living, whereas the writing was riskier because there are lots of people who pursue a career in writing and don't make it. 

Eventually you did make your way back to writing. In fact, you combine that, though, with your law career, didn't you, Floyd?

Eventually. But it was not without the lean years.

Were you actually writing while you were practising law?

Yeah. I remember when I first started [at] Salter Street Films, the way that my day would work is that I would start work at 7:30 a.m. I would work until seven o'clock at night.

I would go home, have dinner with my partner, and then I would work writing from 9:30 p.m. till three in the morning, and that was my routine for probably eight years.

That sounds like it was a trial by fire, and a very long one. Do you expect that an African Nova Scotian student at Saint Mary's will a) circumvent that kind of experience, but also the prize will be handed out as soon as this spring?

Yeah, I mean, I really hope so. 

I want to encourage Black Nova Scotians not not just who are currently in university, but also people who are in their later years in high school to really think about pursuing a career in writing and doing that at Saint Mary's.

For me, doing my arts undergrad at Saint Mary's was transformational in terms of setting my path. Especially with the professors that I had while I was there.

I'm really hoping that this will be something that will encourage more people to consider a career in writing.

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.

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With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning