Celebrated in conjunction with Black History Month, Black Futures Month was conceived as an opportunity for Black artists to share their vision(s) of a just and equitable future, and in doing so, contribute to a more nuanced understanding of Black existence as a spectrum.
That goal is foregrounded in the upcoming Black Writers Matter, an anthology of African Canadian creative nonfiction edited by Whitney French. We’ll be celebrating the release of the book on February 20 as part of Kuumba 2019, and in anticipation, we spoke to a few of the contributors who will be participating in the event: Simone Dalton, Scott Fraser, Phillip Dwight Morgan and Angela Wright.
If you could spotlight a Black writer, who would it be?
Simone Dalton (SD): I am cheating and giving you two names. Every time I have seen the responses of other people to a question like this one, they cheat, too. The two Black writers I would like to spotlight are Oubah Osman and Fiona Raye Clarke. I recently worked with both of these writers when I guest edited the Town Crier blog for The Puritan. They both cracked open something, something deep inside of me. They gave me lift to continue being curious of the world in which I create my own work.
Scott Fraser (SF): Well my essay was inspired by James Baldwin, and I think it pays to go back to the Elders. None of our struggles are “new” exactly, and we can and should learn from those who came before us. In terms of a contemporary Canadian writer, I am very excited to see how Téa Mutonji‘s career develops and I’m looking forward to her first book. I had an opportunity to read some of her work and even tried to sign her to a book deal, but I think she’s in capable hands with Vivek Shraya and the folks at Arsenal Pulp Press. She’s one to watch!
Phillip Dwight Morgan (PM): Zalika Reid-Benta and Whitney French. These two Black writers are brilliant and incisive. They give so much to the writing community through their writing, through panels, mentorship, editorial guidance, and countless conversations. Zalika’s debut novel, Frying Plantain, comes out this year and my hands and eyes are itching with anticipation. Whitney just finished editing Black Writers Matter and I’m already clamouring for her next project.
Angela Wright (AW): Almost all Black writers don’t get the recognition or praise they should. I absolutely loved Chelene Knight‘s Dear Current Occupant. Whitney French is well-known as an editor and workshop facilitator but she’s also a beautiful writer and I can’t wait to see what new work she has in store. Some of my other favourite emerging writers are Rowan McCandless, Nailah King and Lue Boileau, who all published some amazing pieces last year.
“I just want more. More Black writers, Black queer and trans writers, Black disabled writers all telling their own stories.”
– Angela Wright
Are there any topics, themes or genres that you would like to see explored in Black literature moving forward?
SD: I think writers like David Chariandy have created a runway for more exploration around the flaws of humanity, or the corporeal, to put it another way. I am just about to finish his book Soucouyant, so this feels very present for me right now.
SF: This is near and dear to my heart. In my work as an editor/publisher, I’m very keen on publishing books that explore and celebrate Black joy, success, and happiness. Predominantly European-Canadian presses are now finally willing to explore Black pain, but I’m interested in books that go beyond plots revolving around slavery, the Underground Railroad, Black Firsts and racism. I want novels that explore Black love, Black happiness and Black people who dare to live as if they are free. I think that will be the avant-garde of Black fiction moving into the future.
PM: Gatekeepers within the industry routinely limit Black writers to a narrow thematic range. ‘That’s not believable’ or ‘there’s no audience for that’ are familiar phrases to many Black writers. In reality, there countless topics and themes (some explored in Black Writers Matter) that provide important and necessary insight into Blackness, Black worlds, Black mundanity and the intersections therein. As a writer trying to merge journalism, poetry and storytelling, I’d like to see more liminality in and across Black literature moving forward.
AW: I just want more. More Black writers, Black women writers, Black queer and trans writers, Black disabled writers all telling their own stories. I’d also love to see more stories where racism isn’t the central conflict. Black people live complex lives and that needs to be reflected more in literature.
What are you reading right now, and how has it inspired you?
SD: I sort of gave it away above, but Soucouyant is my current read. I am actually most inspired by it for my playwriting, which I am exploring right now. Specifically, I am drawn to the economy of [David Chariandy’s] language and the moments when the language and scenes expand in the book almost to the point of a soliloquy.
SF: I’m currently reading The Cheese and the Worms by historian Carlo Ginzburg. It is best described as a microhistory about the intellectual life of a 16th century, working class Italian man named Menocchio whose independent thinking resulted in an unfortunate encounter with the Inquisition. I’m always inspired by stories of people who march to the beat of their own drum and who, despite the circumstances, live as if they are free. Menocchio was eventually burned at the stake, which is a fate that independent thinkers continue to face either literally or figuratively depending on the setting.
PM: I am currently reading A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks and This Will Be My Undoing, a book of essays by Morgan Jerkins. In their own ways, both authors inspire me with their powerful storytelling and observation. Also, they’re both just damn good at what they do.
AW: I’m almost done the Black Writers Matter anthology and it makes me so excited to see all these Black Canadian writers doing [creative nonfiction]. I’m also reading Traumata, which is a hybrid memoir-essay collection by Australian writer Meera Atkinson. She does such a great job of weaving personal and intergenerational trauma together with broader societal issues that I hope to be able to emulate in my own work.
Registration for The Launch of Black Writers Matter on February 20 at Harbourfront Centre has reached capacity.
We encourage all registrants to sign in at least 15 minutes prior to start time to claim their seats. At that time, a limited number of rush seats will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.