A February Reading List: Bridging Past, Present and Future

A February Reading List: Bridging Past, Present and Future

6:41pm

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Marking Black History Month and Black Futures Month, February encourages both the reflection on Black experiences and contributions and the celebration of visions for a just and equitable future. This more nuanced awareness calls us to consider the pivotal roles we each play in shaping new, inclusive horizons throughout the year. As the team at the Toronto International Festival of Authors looks forward to the month ahead, we have put together a list of books by Black authors that explore, highlight and celebrate the multifaceted tapestry of Black existence.

From fiction to poetry, and personal essays to stories for young readers, check out the selection of books below.


Bottom Rail on Top by D.M. Bradford (Brick Books, 2023)

Based in Montreal, Darby Minott Bradford is an award-winning poet and translator. Their first poetry book, Dream of No One but Myself, won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Governor General’s Literary Awards, and more. In this latest collection of poetry, Bradford fragments and recomposes American histories of antebellum Black life and emancipation, staging the action in tandem with the matter of his own life. It’s a poetic mediation on the complications of legacy and selfhood.

Broughtupsy by Christina Cooke (House of Anansi, January 2024)

Christina Cooke, a Jamaican-born Canadian citizen living and writing in New York City, is a MacDowell Fellow, Journey Prize winner and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award winner. Broughtupsy, her debut novel, explores the question: What are we willing to do for family, and what are we willing to do to feel at home? The story follows Akúa as she returns to Jamaica for the first time in 10 years, tries to reconnect with her estranged sister and confronts the difficult reality of being gay in a deeply religious family. The book weaves the past and present together vividly, diving into Akúa’s journey of grief, self-discovery and finding belonging.

James by Percival Everett (Doubleday, March 2024)

Award-winning American writer Percival Everett is known for his novels Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier and The Trees (shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize). Named the most anticipated book of the year by Time, NPR and more, this latest novel is a reimagining of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Told from enslaved Jim’s point of view, and brimming with electrifying humour and lacerating observations, the story turns the original text on its head. Staying true to tone, Everett spotlights the well-known literary character’s agency, intelligence and compassion. The action-packed novel will be available on March 19, 2024.

Black Boys Like Me: Confrontations with Race, Identity, and Belonging by Matthew R. Morris (Viking, January 2024)

In his compelling memoir, Black Boys Like Me, Toronto-based teacher and writer Matthew R. Morris examines the complexities of race, identity and belonging. From attending high school in Scarborough to his time playing football in the U.S., he candidly shares his personal confrontation with systemic racism, the influences that profoundly shaped his sense of self and the painful journey of emerging into his own identity. Through the poignant exploration in these eight personal essays, Morris invites you into the world of Black masculinity, hip-hop culture and learning, encouraging reflection on the ongoing struggle for belonging and equality.

Blinded by the Brass Ring by Patricia Scarlett (Baraka Books, 2023)

Reflecting contemporary Black life in Canada, Patricia Scarlett’s debut novel, Blinded by the Brass Ring, delves into the competitive world of a career in sales. Set against the backdrop of the glitzy corporate towers in Toronto and the glamorous international television market in Cannes, Jewelle Joseph faces fierce competition from a colleague but finds unexpected encouragement from a Swedish television executive. The narrative unfolds with the support of Jewelle’s close-knit circle of strong women, seamlessly blending the challenges of career ambitions with the complexities of love and family in both Toronto and Montreal.

The African Samurai by Craig Shreve (Simon & Schuster, 2023)

Book cover for The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

Craig Shreve, a descendant of Abraham Doras Shadd, the first Black person in Canada to be elected to public office, and of his daughter Mary Ann Shadd, the pioneering abolitionist and suffragette, is the author of One Night in Mississippi and The African Samurai. The African Samurai unfolds in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal and Japan, offering a powerful historical account of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born and only African-descendant samurai. Exploring themes of trust, respect and the tensions between East and West, this compelling reconstruction of a lost historical figure is a poignant study of the making of modern Japan, revealing an unlikely hero in the process.

Young Readers

Julie and the Mango Tree by Sadé Smith, illustrated by Sayada Ramdial (Macmillan Publishers, 2023)

Passionate about literature and writing books of representation for young readers, Sadé Smith’s books often involve colourful illustrations that capture the vibrancy and beauty of the Caribbean islands. Julie and the Mango Tree, with illustrations by Sayada Ramdial, is a delightful tale brimming with joy, playfulness and whimsical charm. Julie’s quest for a tasty mango snack from a tree in her backyard is the perfect choice for readers craving a tropical adventure in their own backyard. Recommended for ages 3–6 years.

Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, 2023)

Bestselling author Angie Thomas enters the realm of middle-grade fiction with an inventive and suspenseful contemporary fantasy trilogy with Nic Blakes and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy. Inspired by African American history and folklore, the series follows Nic Blake, a Remarkable in an Unremarkable world, as she navigates the challenges of wielding magic and faces societal distrust. Eager to follow in her father’s magical footsteps, Nic and her friends embark on a quest to save her father from imprisonment for a crime she adamantly denies. With Thomas’ storytelling prowess, the trilogy promises a spellbinding blend of fantasy, humour and suspense for readers 8 years and up.

One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (Inkyard Press, 2021)

In One of the Good Ones, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, a talented sister-writing duo, present a powerful exploration of the enduring effects of prejudice and the resilient bond of sisterhood. The novel revolves around Kezi Smith, a teen activist, and history enthusiast whose mysterious death sparks a profound impact on her family. As Kezi becomes a symbol in the fight against police brutality, her sister Happi questions the idealized portrayal of Kezi as “one of the good ones.” The novel delves into Happi and her sister Genny’s journey to honour Kezi using The Negro Motorist Green Book, unravelling unexpected twists that challenge perceptions and redefine the meaning of being an ally. Recommended for ages 12 and up.


If you are looking for more book suggestions, check out Black CanLit Authors You Need to Know. Also be sure to explore the lineup for Harbourfront’s KUUMBA, Toronto’s largest and longest-running Black Futures Month festival, which features performances, art exhibitions, film screenings, conversations and more throughout February.

Marking Black History Month and Black Futures Month, February encourages both the reflection on Black experiences and contributions and the celebration of visions for a just and equitable future. This more nuanced awareness calls us to consider the pivotal roles we each play in shaping new, inclusive horizons throughout the year. As the team at the Toronto International Festival of Authors looks forward to the month ahead, we have put together a list of books by Black authors that explore, highlight and celebrate the multifaceted tapestry of Black existence.

From fiction to poetry, and personal essays to stories for young readers, check out the selection of books below.


Bottom Rail on Top by D.M. Bradford (Brick Books, 2023)

Based in Montreal, Darby Minott Bradford is an award-winning poet and translator. Their first poetry book, Dream of No One but Myself, won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Governor General’s Literary Awards, and more. In this latest collection of poetry, Bradford fragments and recomposes American histories of antebellum Black life and emancipation, staging the action in tandem with the matter of his own life. It’s a poetic mediation on the complications of legacy and selfhood.

Broughtupsy by Christina Cooke (House of Anansi, January 2024)

Christina Cooke, a Jamaican-born Canadian citizen living and writing in New York City, is a MacDowell Fellow, Journey Prize winner and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award winner. Broughtupsy, her debut novel, explores the question: What are we willing to do for family, and what are we willing to do to feel at home? The story follows Akúa as she returns to Jamaica for the first time in 10 years, tries to reconnect with her estranged sister and confronts the difficult reality of being gay in a deeply religious family. The book weaves the past and present together vividly, diving into Akúa’s journey of grief, self-discovery and finding belonging.

James by Percival Everett (Doubleday, March 2024)

Award-winning American writer Percival Everett is known for his novels Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier and The Trees (shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize). Named the most anticipated book of the year by Time, NPR and more, this latest novel is a reimagining of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Told from enslaved Jim’s point of view, and brimming with electrifying humour and lacerating observations, the story turns the original text on its head. Staying true to tone, Everett spotlights the well-known literary character’s agency, intelligence and compassion. The action-packed novel will be available on March 19, 2024.

Black Boys Like Me: Confrontations with Race, Identity, and Belonging by Matthew R. Morris (Viking, January 2024)

In his compelling memoir, Black Boys Like Me, Toronto-based teacher and writer Matthew R. Morris examines the complexities of race, identity and belonging. From attending high school in Scarborough to his time playing football in the U.S., he candidly shares his personal confrontation with systemic racism, the influences that profoundly shaped his sense of self and the painful journey of emerging into his own identity. Through the poignant exploration in these eight personal essays, Morris invites you into the world of Black masculinity, hip-hop culture and learning, encouraging reflection on the ongoing struggle for belonging and equality.

Blinded by the Brass Ring by Patricia Scarlett (Baraka Books, 2023)

Reflecting contemporary Black life in Canada, Patricia Scarlett’s debut novel, Blinded by the Brass Ring, delves into the competitive world of a career in sales. Set against the backdrop of the glitzy corporate towers in Toronto and the glamorous international television market in Cannes, Jewelle Joseph faces fierce competition from a colleague but finds unexpected encouragement from a Swedish television executive. The narrative unfolds with the support of Jewelle’s close-knit circle of strong women, seamlessly blending the challenges of career ambitions with the complexities of love and family in both Toronto and Montreal.

The African Samurai by Craig Shreve (Simon & Schuster, 2023)

Book cover for The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

Craig Shreve, a descendant of Abraham Doras Shadd, the first Black person in Canada to be elected to public office, and of his daughter Mary Ann Shadd, the pioneering abolitionist and suffragette, is the author of One Night in Mississippi and The African Samurai. The African Samurai unfolds in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal and Japan, offering a powerful historical account of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born and only African-descendant samurai. Exploring themes of trust, respect and the tensions between East and West, this compelling reconstruction of a lost historical figure is a poignant study of the making of modern Japan, revealing an unlikely hero in the process.

Young Readers

Julie and the Mango Tree by Sadé Smith, illustrated by Sayada Ramdial (Macmillan Publishers, 2023)

Passionate about literature and writing books of representation for young readers, Sadé Smith’s books often involve colourful illustrations that capture the vibrancy and beauty of the Caribbean islands. Julie and the Mango Tree, with illustrations by Sayada Ramdial, is a delightful tale brimming with joy, playfulness and whimsical charm. Julie’s quest for a tasty mango snack from a tree in her backyard is the perfect choice for readers craving a tropical adventure in their own backyard. Recommended for ages 3–6 years.

Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, 2023)

Bestselling author Angie Thomas enters the realm of middle-grade fiction with an inventive and suspenseful contemporary fantasy trilogy with Nic Blakes and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy. Inspired by African American history and folklore, the series follows Nic Blake, a Remarkable in an Unremarkable world, as she navigates the challenges of wielding magic and faces societal distrust. Eager to follow in her father’s magical footsteps, Nic and her friends embark on a quest to save her father from imprisonment for a crime she adamantly denies. With Thomas’ storytelling prowess, the trilogy promises a spellbinding blend of fantasy, humour and suspense for readers 8 years and up.

One of the Good Ones by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (Inkyard Press, 2021)

In One of the Good Ones, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, a talented sister-writing duo, present a powerful exploration of the enduring effects of prejudice and the resilient bond of sisterhood. The novel revolves around Kezi Smith, a teen activist, and history enthusiast whose mysterious death sparks a profound impact on her family. As Kezi becomes a symbol in the fight against police brutality, her sister Happi questions the idealized portrayal of Kezi as “one of the good ones.” The novel delves into Happi and her sister Genny’s journey to honour Kezi using The Negro Motorist Green Book, unravelling unexpected twists that challenge perceptions and redefine the meaning of being an ally. Recommended for ages 12 and up.


If you are looking for more book suggestions, check out Black CanLit Authors You Need to Know. Also be sure to explore the lineup for Harbourfront’s KUUMBA, Toronto’s largest and longest-running Black Futures Month festival, which features performances, art exhibitions, film screenings, conversations and more throughout February.

6:41pm

Thursday, June 20, 2024

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