A. Gregory Frankson curated AfriCANthology to represent the varied voices of Black Canadian poets
A. Gregory Frankson is a poet, author and founder and CEO of Voice Share Inc. He's published four poetry collections and his latest book is AfriCANthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets.
The powerful anthology features work from trailblazing writers like Olive Senior and Dr. Afua Cooper, along with newer writers like Bertrand Bickersteth and Cicely Belle Blain.
Frankson is the editor and a contributor to the book, which serves as chorus of voices sharing their experience of being Black poets in Canada.
He spoke to Shelagh Rogers about how AfriCANthology came together.
A chorus of voices
"The anthology is an idea that I've had for a very, very long time — to bring together writers of this calibre in this particular format. I was fortunate to be part of the Great Black North, which was a very notable and significant collection of contemporary Black Canadian poets back in 2013.
It combines the personal story and the artistic expression in the same volume — so folks can get a sense of what it is to be a Black person and a Black artist at this moment in history.
"Ever since then, I thought it would be really great if we had a collection that brought together wonderful artists, not just with their poetry, but also to have them have the opportunity to write a little bit about their experiences in the form of personal essay. It combines the personal story and the artistic expression in the same volume — so folks can get a sense of what it is to be a Black person and a Black artist at this moment in history.
"We really wanted to make sure there was strong geographic representation, strong representation in terms of genre, ethno-cultural background and etc., and as well in terms of the level of accomplishment, in terms of longevity and impact that the different artists in the book have. And so that was really important for us to make sure that there was a really broad representation, because the story of Blackness in Canada needs to be told in aggregate, not just in single voices here and there."
Tapping into tradition
"I think that in the African sort of heritage, and the African traditions of how we share and interpret our experiences in word and in verse and in song, that ultimately it's very much the same thing — whether it's provided on page or on the stage. So it was of utmost importance to represent and to respect and honour all of those different sorts of heritages in the full collection as it came together.
I thought it was really important that we have that full representation on full display on the page so that people can see it, read it, and experience it. This year, ten years from now and 100 years from now.
"The words that are usually shared on a stage in a performance aspect are still deeply powerful on the page, and folks don't always necessarily understand and appreciate that. So by gathering those together and putting in the words of folks like Webster from Montreal, who is into hip hop poetics in terms of his work and his practice. And then the words of somebody like a Dwayne Morgan in Toronto, who's always been deeply connected both to the spoken word and to the hip hop traditions.
"I thought it was really important that we have that full representation on full display on the page so that people can see it, read it, and experience it. This year, ten years from now and 100 years from now."
The power of names
"It was really important to reflect upon the name and what it does in terms of how it confers identity upon its holder and how important that is to you and how important it is to defend and protect the vitality of that name, because it's something that's given to you by your family, by the people who love you.
It was really important to reflect upon the name and what it does in terms of how it confers identity upon its holder
In AfriCANthology Afua Cooper talks about the experience of Black people — descendants of slaves who are carrying around those slave names all the way up until the present day. She's talking about the need and the necessity for us to undergo a process of renaming and reclaiming who we are and what we're about.
"There are many different aspects associated with that — she goes into in deeper detail in her essay. It's just a profound piece of writing that really causes folks to reflect both those of African descent and those from the broader community as well."
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Rewriting the Canadian story
"Well, I think some the introduction is particularly instructive. I say in the introduction that the work is both a celebration and a warning. What I meant by that is that we need to be aware and concerned with how folks of African descent are able to move and exist within this space. But there also needs to be a recognition that the time is well and long past where folks are going to passively accept anything less than full equity in treatment and ability and opportunity.
"So when we speak our stories, when we come from our own voice perspective and share our worldviews and our experiences, it's really important that folks take us as where we are and work to incorporate that into the broader Canadian story. Black people have literally been here since Champlain showed up.
AfriCANthology is an opportunity for us to really start to take those stories into deeper consideration in the telling of who we are as Canadians.- Source
"And so those stories and those experiences are central to who we are as a people. I had a bit of a criticism that was directed at me saying, 'Well, Black people are only about three and a half percent of the population of the country. How could they possibly be central?' And so that just speaks to me about how much work we need to do to have people understand and have a clearer sense of just how central those stories have been to the development of who we are collectively as Canadians.
"AfriCANthology is an opportunity for us to really start to take those stories into deeper consideration in the telling of who we are as Canadians."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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.