It’s Black History Month – a time when we shine a spotlight on the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities. This month is the perfect time to read, buy, sell, and support Black writers and their books, but as we commit to an anti-racist future, we must also commit to ensuring that books by BIPOC authors are promoted in independent bookstores across Canada year-round.
CIBA has curated a list of recent and soon-to-be-published titles we encourage you to add to your shelves!
Antonio Michael Downing, Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming
Antonio Michael Downing’s memoir of creativity and transformation is a startling mash-up of memories and mythology, told in gripping, lyrical prose. Raised by his indomitable grandmother in the lush rainforest of southern Trinidad, Downing, at age 11, is uprooted to Canada when she dies.
Richly evocative, Saga Boy is a heart-wrenching but uplifting story of a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes adversity and abandonment to reclaim his Black identity and embrace a rich heritage.
Antonio Michael Downinggrew up in southern Trinidad, Northern Ontario, Scarborough, and Kitchener. He is a musician, writer, and activist based in Toronto. His 2010 debut novel, Molasses (Blaurock Press), was published to critical acclaim. In 2017 he was named by the RBC Taylor Prize as one of Canada’s top Emerging Authors for nonfiction. He performs and composes music as John Orpheus.
Francesa Ekyuwasi, Butter Honey Pig Bread
(Arsenal Pulp Press)
An intergenerational saga about three Nigerian women: a novel about food, family, and forgiveness.
Butter Honey Pig Bread is a story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.
Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer, artist, and filmmaker born in Lagos, Nigeria. Her work explores themes of faith, family, queerness, consumption, loneliness, and belonging. Her writing has been published in Winter Tangerine Review, Brittle Paper, Transition Magazine, the Malahat Review, Visual Art News, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and GUTS magazine. Her story "Orun is Heaven" was longlisted for the 2019 Journey Prize. Butter Honey Pig Bread, longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is her first novel.
Tawhida Tanya Evanson, Book of Wings
In this sweeping, allusive novel, the celebrated poet, dervish, and oral storyteller Tawhida Tanya Evanson comes to terms with what it means to stand on one's own two feet in an uncertain world. The acclaimed Antiguan-Canadian artist traces a global journey from Vancouver to the United States, Caribbean, Paris, and Morocco as a relationship with her lover and travel partner disintegrates and she finds herself on a path toward personal discovery and spiritual fulfillment that leads her deep into the North African landscape.
Tawhida Tanya Evanson is an Antiguan-Québecoise poet, performer and producer. Author of two books of poetry, Nouveau Griot (Frontenac 2018) and Bothism (Ekstasis 2017), Book of Wings is her first work of fiction. With a 20-year practice in spoken word, she performs internationally and has released several studio albums and videopoems. Evanson is program director of Banff Centre Spoken Word. She has been named Poet of Honour at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, and has received the Golden Beret Award for her contribution to the spoken-word genre. Born and based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, she moonlights as a whirling dervish.
Sarah Everett, Some Other Now
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers.
Sarah Everett is the author of No One Here is Lonely and Everyone We've Been. She remembers growing up in enchanted forests, on desert islands, and inside a magical wardrobe. She would only ever erase her memory of past karaoke performances and certain fashion choices. She lives in Alberta, Canada.
Cecil Foster, They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada
A historical work of non-fiction that chronicles the little-known stories of black railway porters – the so-called “Pullmen” of the Canadian rail lines. The actions and spirit of these men helped define Canada as a nation in surprising ways; effecting race relations, human rights, North American multiculturalism, community building, the shape and structure of unions, and the nature of travel and business across the US and Canada. Drawing on the stories and legends of several of these influential early black Canadians, this book narrates the history of a very visible, but rarely considered, aspect of black life in railway-age Canada. These porters, who fought against the idea of Canada as White Man’s Country, open only to immigrants from Europe, fought for opportunities and rights and won.
Cecil Foster is a leading author, academic, journalist and public intellectual. His work speaks about the challenges that Black people have encountered historically in Canada in their efforts to achieve respect and recognition for their contribution to what is now a multicultural Canada. He highlights their fight for social justice and human dignity. In particular, Foster addresses the issues of immigration in his critical discussions on who is a Canadian in the ever-evolving social narrative toward a genuine multicultural Canada.
Nadia L. Hohn, Malaika’s Surprise
When Malaika finds out she is going to have a new baby brother or sister, she worries that her mother will forget about her. But a surprise arrives on Malaika’s birthday that gives her more reason to celebrate her family’s love.
Nadia L. Hohn is a writer and educator. Her first picture book, Malaika’s Costume, won the Helen Isobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Children’s Literature Award. She is also the author of Malaika’s Winter Carnival; A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes; Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter, illustrated by Gustavo Mazali; and two titles in the Sankofa series — Music and Media. Nadia’s writing is inspired by her childhood memories, Jamaican heritage, Black culture, world travels, and social issues. She lives in Toronto.
Jael Richardson, Gutter Child
Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government.
But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina’s life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all.
Jael Richardson is the artistic director of the FOLD literary festival, the books columnist on CBC Radio’s q and an outspoken advocate on issues of diversity. She is the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey. The memoir received a CBC Bookie Award, an Arts Acclaim Award and a My People Award. A children’s edition was published by Groundwood Books. Her essay “Conception” is part of Room magazine’s first Women of Colour edition, and excerpts from her first play, my upside down black face, appear in the anthology T-Dot Griots: An Anthology of Toronto’s Black Storytellers. Jael Richardson received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. She lives in Brampton, Ontario.
Cheryl Thompson, Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty
(Coach House Books)
From martyr to insult, how “Uncle Tom” has influenced two centuries of racial politics.
Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O. J. Simpson and Christopher Darden have all been accused of being an Uncle Tom during their careers. How, why, and with what consequences for our society did Uncle Tom morph first into a servile old man and then to a racial epithet hurled at African American men deemed, by other Black people, to have betrayed their race?
Uncle Tom, the eponymous figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sentimental anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death. But soon after the best-selling novel appeared, theatre troupes across North America and Europe transformed Stowe’s story into minstrel shows featuring white men in blackface. In Uncle, Cheryl Thompson traces Tom’s journey from literary character to racial trope. She explores how Uncle Tom came to be and exposes the relentless reworking of Uncle Tom into a nostalgic, racial metaphor with the power to shape how we see Black men, a distortion visible in everything from Uncle Ben and Rastus The Cream of Wheat chef to Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Bill Cosby.
In Donald Trump’s post-truth America, where nostalgia is used as a political tool to rewrite history, Uncle makes the case for why understanding the production of racial stereotypes matters more than ever before.
Cheryl Thompson is an Assistant Professor at Ryerson University in the School of Creative Industries. She is author of Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada's Black Beauty Culture. She previously held a Banting postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in The Conversation, Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, Spacing, Herizons Magazine, Halifax Coast, and Rabble.ca. She was born and raised in Toronto, where she currently resides. She has also lived in the United States.
Ian Williams, Word Problems
(Coach House Books)
Frustrated by how tough the issues of our time are to solve – racial inequality, our pernicious depression, the troubled relationships we have with other people – Ian Williams revisits the seemingly simple questions of grade school for inspiration: if Billy has five nickels and Jane has three dimes, how many Black men will be murdered by police? He finds no satisfaction, realizing that maybe there are no easy answers to ineffable questions.
Williams uses his characteristic inventiveness to find not just new answers but new questions, reconsidering what poetry can be, using math and grammar lessons to shape poems that invite us to participate. Two long poems cut through the text like vibrating bass notes, curiosities circle endlessly, and microaggressions spin into lyric. And all done with a light touch and a joyful sense of humour.
Ian Williams is the author of the Giller Prize-winning novel Reproduction. His last poetry collection Personals was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award. His short story collection, Not Anyone's Anything, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada. His first book, You Know Who You Are, was a finalist for the ReLit Poetry Prize. Williams holds a Ph.D. in English at the University of Toronto and is currently an assistant professor of poetry in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary's Distinguished Writers Program. Ian Williams currently resides in Vancouver, BC.