Why Dionne Brand is fascinated with Toronto — and how the diverse love and lives of its citizens intersect
This interview originally aired on March 14, 2020.
For decades, award-winning poet and novelist Dionne Brand's work has shown readers a Canada that is a polyglot, multicultural reality. Her depiction of Toronto in particular is a place where energy and beauty come from the meeting and mixing of her diverse cast of characters.
In her 2008 and 2011 interviews with Shelagh Rogers, Brand talks about living in Toronto and writing both books.
"I think what made me write the book was the sense of all that collectivity of the city. If you stand on any street corner on any given day and all of that passes you by. I get swept up in all the possibilities. I get swept up in what people might be thinking, where they might be going, what they might be worried about, what they might want. I just find that so fascinating. I thought I'd try to write it and write it down.
"The city of Toronto has changed tremendously. The neighbourhoods have become much more complex. There are many more people, many different kinds of people. And I like all that interpolation — what one set of people do to the other set of people, in terms of dreams or the way you walk, talk or what you eat.
The city of Toronto has changed tremendously. The neighbourhoods have become much more complex.
"You try to find ways of living together. And if you look at it on the level of the street people do — they make all kinds of strange accommodations. They integrate other ways of living, the kinds of lives. It's wonderful."
"I'm constantly interested in what happens in Toronto and what happens among people, what happens on the street. I'm just curious, more and more curious, and more and more surprised by what I encounter.
"It began as a short story about eight or 10 years ago. I'd written one of the chapters that long ago and then I had put that aside because it was only a short story. Then little bits come to me. But what I'm deeply interested in is the kind of potent and random exchanges that people have.
"We can meet someone and it can be incredibly deep but passing. I decided to structure the work along the lines of those kinds of exchanges, those emotional, physical and historical exchanges that we make as we pass each other on a street. And how we can be fully there and fully involved for five minutes. And then move on.
I'm constantly interested in what happens in Toronto and what happens kind of among people, what happens on the street.
"But whatever has happened to us, whatever that exchange has brought us has enriched or saddened us or deepened us in some kind of way. The novel is my small dissertation on the compass of love."
Dionne Brand's comments have been edited for length and clarity.