The Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) is proud to take part in Harbourfront Centre’s Kuumba 2019: the longest-running Black History Month celebration in Toronto. On Wednesday, February 20 we’ll be celebrating The Launch of Black Writers Matter, an anthology of African Canadian creative nonfiction. The conversation will include editor Whitney French and contributors Simone Dalton, Scott Fraser, Phillip Dwight Morgan and Angela Wright. The event will be hosted by Nadia L. Hohn.
TIFA has had the pleasure of featuring numerous voices that honour the heritage, traditions and culture of Black communities here in Canada and across the globe. In honour of Black History Month, we’ve selected ten Black authors from the TIFA archives whose work we invite you to read this February, and all year round.
Austin Clarke was a Barbados-born Canadian author who wrote more than two dozen books and often wrote about being Black in Canada. He won the 2002 Scotiabank Giller Prize for The Polished Hoe and was awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize in 2012, an award given out during IFOA every October in recognition of an author’s contribution to Canadian letters.
“I rejoiced when I saw that Authors at Harbourfront Centre had named me this year’s winner of the Harbourfront Festival Prize. I did not come to this city on September 29, 1959, as a writer. I came as a student,” Clarke said in a statement.
“However, my career as a writer buried any contention of being a scholar and I thank Authors at Harbourfront Centre for saving me from the more painful life of the ‘gradual student.’ It is an honour to be part of such a prestigious list of authors.”
– CBC News, Austin Clarke wins $10K Harbourfront prize
Toni Morrison is an American novelist. She’s one of three Black writers and the only woman of colour to have won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Her most well-know work, Beloved, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. In her 2015 interview with The Guardian, Morrison talked about being called a Black writer:
Most writers claim to abhor labels but Morrison has always welcomed the term “black writer”. “I’m writing for black people,” she says, “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old coloured girl from Lorain, Ohio.
Nuruddin Farah is a Somali novelist who, despite being driven out of his country in exile, has made his homeland the subject of his books. He’s well-regarded by other African writers and his novel, From a Crooked Rib, became a Penguin Modern Classic in 2004.
“I believe in the rightness of what I’m doing, and in the wrongness of being stopped,” says Farah, who was kidnapped on his first visit to Somalia in 1996, after more than three decades abroad. He believes hit squads were sent to kill him on two separate occasions when he was living in exile. “There must be a reason why my life has been spared: it is to write.”
– Financial Times, Nuruddin Farah: ‘I write about Somalia to keep it alive’
Dionne Brand is a Canadian author who was the City of Toronto’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2012. She won a Toronto Book Award for What We All Long For in 2006, and has earned her name in the Toronto Book Garden. She a recipient of the Order of Canada and curated The Unpublished City anthology featuring the works of not yet published writers who represent the vibrancy of Toronto.
“I do not write toward anything called justice, but against tyranny and toward liberation.”
– Barnard Center for Research on Women, Dionne Brand: Writing Against Tyranny and Toward Liberation
James Baldwin was an American author and social critique. His work has influenced generations of black writers, from children’s author Walter Dean Myers to public intellectual and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. In fact, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bestselling book, Between the World and Me, was inspired in form by Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, as its first essay was written as a letter to Baldwin’s nephew (whereas Coates’ book was written as a letter to his son).
“Something that irritates you and won’t let you go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book, or die. You have to go through that. Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”
– Brain Pickings, James Baldwin’s Advice on Writing
Deanna Rodger is a British poet and dynamic spoken word artist. She co-runs a unique dining experience called Come Rhyme with Me with fellow British poet Dean Atta, which serves Caribbean cuisine and a menu of spoken word performers. Her debut collection of poetry, I Did It Too, was published in 2017.
“I didn’t really want to do it [creative writing workshop],” she says, “but then they said, Write about fire, and I thought, Ooh, I can definitely write about fire! I know what it feels like in my belly, I know what it feels like in my heart, I know what it feels like in my brain.”
– DavidCharles.info, Deanna Rodger: Read My Lips
Esi Edugyan is a Canadian author who’s won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her second novel, Half-Blood Blues. She was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.
“What fills me with the greatest hope for the future of our literature is what I see around me in the present: the incredible current of diversity. From experimental poetry to political novels, from spoken word to underground theatre, there is a dazzling variety of playful, serious art being produced. The greater our diversity, the stronger we become. I don’t know how this works, but I believe fiercely that it is so.”
– Toronto Star, Why Esi Edugyan is optimistic about Canadian writers
Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian author most famously known for his debut novel, Things Fall Apart, which is taught in many schools today. He won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction, and held 30 honorary degrees. Colonialism is a recurring theme in his work, which has contributed to his popularity as one of Africa’s greatest storytellers.
In 1965 Achebe wrote: “I feel that the English language will be able to carry the weight of my African experience. But it will have to be a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.”
– The Guardian, Chinua Achebe: A life in writing
Roxane Gay is an American author who writes works of fiction and nonfiction including Hunger, Bad Feminist and Difficult Women. In 2016 she became the second black woman to write a comic at Marvel Comics, with her title Black Panther: World of Wakanda. Gay is currently an associate professor at Purdue University and a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times.
“The things that scare me most,” Gay said, “tend to be the things that are the most intellectually satisfying.”
– Shameless Magazine, Trust Your Audience and Write Well: Roxane Gay on Writing
George Elliott Clarke is a Canadian poet with an interest in Black Canadian history. He recently served as Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate from 2016 to 2017 and was Toronto’s Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2015. His poetry collection, Execution Poems, won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 2001. He recently released an anthology of groundbreaking works by Black Canadian authors titled Locating Home: The First African-Canadian Novel and Verse Collections.
“Writing is merely a mature form of crayon art. Like any three-year-old delighting in adding colour to a page, the writer should delight in exhibiting his/her ‘colours’ in hopes that the joy in creativity will elicit a matching joy in welcome.”