It’s February, and that means it’s Black History Month! Check out these four queer Black Canadian women authors whose books you should definitely have on your shelves.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Dionne Brand is a superstar and legend in the Canadian literary scene. The author of at least seven books of poetry, three novels, and two books of non-fiction, Brand is a born writer and a poet in particular. Honestly the way she writes even her fiction and non-fiction is so beautiful I imagine it would be nice to read things like her grocery and to-do lists. She was Toronto’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2012, a much deserved and fitting position especially given that so many of her characters are Torontonians. Brand often explores the complexities of Black and other people of colour’s—most of them queer—lives in Toronto and sometimes in Brand’s native Trinidad. In Another Place, Not Here follows two Black Trinidadian star-crossed women lovers between Canada and the Caribbean, touching on anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and diasporic life as well as queer relationships and erotics. Even if you don’t know what Brand is talking about, I promise the beauty of her writing will win you over. Here’s a small slice of her poetic fiction:
I sink into Verlia and let she flesh swallow me up. I devour she. She open me up like any morning. Limp, limp and rain light, soft to the marrow.
I only recently read my first book by Calgary fiction writer and academic Suzette Mayr, who’s got mixed Afro-Caribbean and German background. Venous Hum is a satire set in Calgary full of wacky stuff like vegetarian vampires, extramarital affairs, and high school reunions, while the African-Canadian mixed race lesbian main character Lai Fun (named because her father loves the Chinese noodle of the same name) stumbles through her late thirties. It’s weird, and really funny. (Read my review here). Mayr’s most recent novel is Monoceros, which has won and been nominated for lots of awards like the 2012 ReLit Award, the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Award, and more! It’s a tragicomic story about the aftermath of the suicide of a 17-year-old bullied gay boy and how his death affects everyone around him. Her previous novels are The Widows and Moon Honey—don’t you just love her unique, inventive book titles?—are about topics as diverse as three older women deciding to go over Niagara Falls in a bright orange space-age barrel and white lovers magically waking up Black. Hers is fiction to read if you are looking for a new take on magical realism and are bored of all the same-old, same-old tales about lesbian relationships. Her next book is due out later this year, and is called Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall.
Nalo Hopkinson is hands down one of my favourite authors. Like Dionne Brand, she’s originally from Trinidad, but she works in a very different space: science fiction, fantasy, and folk tales. She’s Octavia Butler’s lesser-known writer twin, writing fiction just as wildly inventive and, frankly, genius as Butler. Since her first novel in 1998, Brown Girl in the Ring—set in post-apocalyptic Toronto, Hopkinson has gone on to put out some of the best fiction that I’ve ever read. I personally think both of her short story collections Skin Folk and Falling in Love with Hominids are the very best work she’s done, but her novels such as The Salt Roads and Sister Mine are also excellent and ranging from Afro-Caribbean mythological urban fantasy set in Toronto and magical historical tales of Black queer women in different eras and places in the world. In her short stories you’ll find topics like future sex toys who have a life of their own, lesbian/genderqueer erotica set in a brothel, body swapping, zombies who only morph when they hit puberty, and time-travelling art historians taking over the bodies of children. If you haven’t been reading Hopkinson and you like speculative fiction, you are seriously missing out! Check out all my reviews of Hopkinson’s books here.
Makeda Silvera is a Toronto-based Jamaican-Canadian literary fiction writer and editor, most notably editing the ground-breaking anthology Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology which came out back in 1991 and was nominated for a Stonewall Book Award. Piece of My Heart was published by the press Makeda Silvera and artist Stephanie Martin co-founded in response to mainstream publishing’s racist and sexist practices: it was the first Canadian press devoted to publishing Black women and women of colour. In the 15 years the press ran, it published over 50 books. Previous to Piece of My Heart, Silvera had released two books of her own, one a work of oral history with Caribbean domestic workers (Silenced) and the other a collection of short stories called Remembering G. Also the author of Her Head a Village & Other Stories, Silvera’s most recent fiction is The Heart Does Not Bend, a novel about mothers and daughters in a Jamaican family. Spanning generations and countries—Jamaica and Canada—The Heart Does Not Bend is both a queer love story and an intergenerational saga of a family led by a matriarch whose younger members must rebel against in order to live their own lives.
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