Up Close

Canisia Lubrin on remembering her grandmother's stories — even when her grandmother couldn't

Canisia Lubrin’s home in Whitby, Ontario, is a long way from the small wooden house near the beach in St. Lucia where her grandmother would spin nightly stories. But every time Canisia tells a story herself, she goes back there.
Canisia Lubrin lives in Whitby, ON. but she grew up in St. Lucia, where she used to love to listen her her grandmother's nightly stories.

Canisia Lubrin's home in Whitby, Ontario is a long way from the small wooden house near the beach in St. Lucia where she spent the first few years of her life. The house was old and creaky but Canisia remembers it as a wondrous place where the windows offered a view of banana trees and the ocean.

But, mostly, Canisia remembers that tiny house for the stories – funny and scary, sometimes confusing – that her grandmother would spin nightly in the hopes of teaching the children a lesson or two about how to live well and treat others with respect.

Canisia's grandmother would recount the old Creole folktales and fables form her own childhood, stories of greed run amok and gluttony taken to the extreme. The outcomes for those characters were rarely good but Canisia and her brother just couldn't get enough.

Sitting on her grandmother's lap in that small house near the beach, Canisia would beg her grandmother to tell and retell her favourite stories – stories that would later influence Canisia's own poetry and writing in Canada.

But those moonlit nights full of storytelling wouldn't last much past Canisia's early school years. Her grandmother fell ill and their close relationship evaporated, seemingly in a matter of minutes. But the importance of those early years had a lasting impact on Canisia who says despite the intervening decades, in her mind, her primary audience is still her grandmother: "Every time I sit down and write something, I think I want to tell her a story. Every poem I write, she's right there. Every piece of fiction I write, she's right there. To me, she's hanging over my shoulders because those short years I spent with her, she was the master that trained my ear."

PHOTO GALLERY: Canisia's photos of St. Lucia, where she grew up listening to her grandmother's stories

About the producer

Naheed Mustafa
Naheed Mustafa is an award-winning producer, writer, and broadcaster. She began her career as a freelance reporter when she left Canada and moved to Pakistan where she worked for both local English language media as well as newspapers back home. After coming back to Canada, Naheed added broadcasting to her list of media platforms and became a regular documentary contributor at CBC Radio. Alongside documentary, Naheed has also worked as a producer for a variety of news and current affairs programs at CBC Radio including Dispatches, As It Happens, The Current, and Ideas. She will spend the upcoming year as a William Southam Journalism Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto as the CBC/Radio-Canada fellow.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now