By Neil Armstrong
When the pages of books — featured at the 2021 Black and Caribbean Book Affair, October 14 to 17 — are turned, they will reveal works boldly discussing issues of colour, race, education, discrimination, identity, the COVID-19 pandemic, self empowerment and more, at the virtual and hybrid event.
Hosted by A Different Booklist Cultural Centre: The People’s Residence (ADBCC) in Toronto, the annual festival will showcase the new books of 14 authors, 3 editors, lovers of literature, community advocates and a panel discussion to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection at the Toronto Public Library. All of the events will be live-streamed on Facebook Live, except for a ticketed affair, with award-winning author, Myriam J.A. Chancy.
In 1973, Dr. Rita Cox pioneered the Black Heritage and West Indian Resource Collection at Parkdale branch of the Toronto Public Library. It was subsequently established at three other branches: York Woods, 1984; Cedarbrae, 1989; and Maria A. Shchuka, 2003.
The Trinidad and Tobago-born veteran librarian retired from the Toronto Public Library in 1995, having served as Head of Parkdale for 21 years. In 1998, the important resource was renamed the Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection, and, two years later, renamed in honour of its founder. The Rita Cox Endowment Fund is established within the Toronto Public Library Foundation to support and enhance the growth of the Collection.
The Collection features more than 16,000 print and audiovisual materials for adults, children and teens, about the Black and Caribbean experience, with special emphasis on Canadian material. It is now available at the Parkdale, Maria A. Shchuka, Malvern and Downsview branches.
The Black and Caribbean Book Affair will kick off on the evening of October 14, with a toast to all the Black and Caribbean authors, who won prizes this year.
In the first wave of the pandemic, Olive Senior, the renowned author of 18 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature and other published work, wrote poems that she shared on social media. They were subsequently published as Pandemic Poems: First Wave.
Senior was named Jamaica’s Poet Laureate for 2021 to 2024 on March 17, 2021. Her many awards include Canada’s Writers Trust Matt Cohen Award for Lifetime Achievement, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies and the Gold Medal of the Institute of Jamaica. Her work has been taught internationally and is widely translated.
Senior will discuss her new collection of poems at 7:00 p.m. that evening with Paula de Ronde, founder of Arts and Culture Jamaica Inc.
The panel discussion about the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection will happen, from 12:00-1:00 p.m., on October 15, with co-moderator and Caribbean culture enthusiast, Denise Herrera Jackson.
Educator, arranger and author, Dr. Salah Wilson, will showcase Steelpan Playing With Theory, a steelpan textbook, and The Steelpan Teacher’s Manual on October 15, 3:00-4:00 p.m., in conversation with educator and musician, Ivor Picou.
Like Senior, Canute Lawrence — a language and literature teacher for more than three decades, who has taught in Jamaica, USA and Canada — has written a collection of poems, Pathology of a Pandemic. Author, Gayle Gonsalves, will interview Lawrence from 4:30-5:00 p.m.
Carl James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York University, is the author of several books, including the recent Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth.
“Based on research, conducted in Black communities, along with over 30 years of teaching experience, Colour Matters presents a collection of essays that engages educators, youth workers, and policymakers to think about the ways, in which race shapes the education, aspirations, and achievements of Black Canadians. Informed by the current socio-political Canadian landscape, Colour Matters covers topics relating to the lives of Black youth, with particular, though not exclusive, attention to young Black men in the Greater Toronto Area,” notes a synopsis of the book.
From 6:00-7:00 p.m., he will be in conversation with fellow educator, Nigel Barriffe, about the new book.
Myriam J. A. Chancy, Guggenheim Fellow and HBA Chair of the Humanities at Scripps College, has written What Storm, What Thunder, a novel on the 2010 Haiti earthquake, published by Harper Collins Canada and Tin House in the USA.
Chancy is a Haitian-Canadian/American writer, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and subsequently raised there and in Canada. After obtaining her BA in English/Philosophy from the University of Manitoba (1989) and her MA in English Literature from Dalhousie University (1990), she completed her Ph. D. in English at the University of Iowa (1994).
The author was awarded the 2011 Guyana Prize in Literature Caribbean Award for Best Fiction 2010 for her third novel, The Loneliness of Angels (Peepal Tree Press 2010; also shortlisted in the fiction category for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature). She garnered a short-listing for Best First Book, Canada/Caribbean region category, of the Commonwealth Prize in 2004 for her first novel, Spirit of Haiti (London: Mango Publications, 2003); and published a second novel, The Scorpion’s Claw (Peepal Tree Press 2005) to critical praise. All three of her novels are taught at universities and colleges in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. The Loneliness of Angels was translated into Spanish by LaSiren Press in Colombia in 2020, and into Danish with Rebel With A Cause Press in Denmark, in 2019.
Chancy will share thoughts about her book with storyteller and author, Itah Sadu, 7:30-8:30 p.m. This is a ticketed event ($25, which includes a copy of the book) and the Zoom link will be sent to those, who purchase tickets.
On Saturday, October 16, programming will start at 10:00 a.m. for an hour with Tania Hernandez ‘Miss Tania Lou’, author of One Pot: True Stories from Jamaica & Canada (Stories, Recipes, Poems). She will be in conversation with Gayle Gonsalves.
Ivelyn Harris is a Jamaican Maroon descendant and has been a traditional herbalist for over 40 years, practising from her cottage in the foothills of the Blue and John Crow Mountains.
In Healing Herbs of Jamaica, Harris draws on her years of knowledge and experience as a herbalist, to share how herbs can enhance health. She will talk about her new book from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Children and their parents will be entertained between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. by authors Ayana Francis and Kodi Dill.
Francis’ new book is ABC Where are We? The West Indies and she will be interviewed by Nigel Barriffe from 1:00-1:30 p.m.
Follow along with Caiden and Idris as they explore the Caribbean countries and territories through their ABCs! They’ll take you on imaginary adventures — from building pink sandcastles in the Bahamas, hiking Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls, to falling in love with the rhythm of Trinidad and Tobago’s steel pan, notes a description of the book.
Kodi Dill, educator, spoken word artist and author of Welcome to the Cypher, will share the story of his book with author, Yolanda Marshall.
“Starting with beatboxes and fingersnaps, an exuberant narrator introduces kids in his community to the powerful possibilities of rap, from turning “a simple phrase/into imagery that soars”, to proclaiming, “this is a voice that represents me!” As Khodi Dill’s rhymes heat up, the diverse crew of kids—illustrated in Awuradwoa Afful’s bold, energetic style—gain self-confidence and a sense of freedom in this wonderful picture book debut that is perfect for reading aloud,” says publisher Annick Press, about the book that will be out in October.
From 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., storyteller Gayle Gonsalves will showcase her new book, My Stories Have No Endings, with author, Yolanda Marshall.
Situated in Antigua, the novel centres around the life of Kai and the voices she hears, when she dips her head into the wind that whisper stories from a forgotten past. Gonsalves enriches her narrative by evoking colours, textures and shapes with words.
Co-editors, Nicole Salmon, Camila Pereira and Nneka Allen, will talk with Itah Sadu about Collecting Courage, an anthology of 14 Black fundraisers, from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m.
“Collecting Courage is a powerful and moving collection of personal experiences, written by Black fundraisers, that chip away at the idea of an inherent goodness of the charitable sector,” says a synopsis of the book.
It notes that, “these personal testimonies document racism, survival and the pre-eminence of 14 accomplished Black North American fundraisers, 5 from the United States and 9 from Canada.”
Rabin Ramah, author of I Only Make Love in Montreal, a collection of stories, will be in conversation with Gayle Gonsalves from 4:30-5:00 p.m.
“In one story, a young boy experiences his first signs of love for a man as sinful, terrifying, and evil, resulting in the end of his innocence. In another, a lonely schoolboy is whipped and shamed for soiling his pants, his only companion a cow he calls Mama.
“Heartbreaking yet hopeful, funny yet wise, these stories are infused with the warmth and vibrancy of the Caribbean sun and the insight of a young man who was trying to find love amidst the violence of his childhood,” notes a description of the book.
To close out Saturday’s programming, historian, poet, and author, Afua Cooper, who has contributed to the new anthology, Afrikan Wisdom: New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond (North Atlantic Books), and her daughter, Habiba Cooper Diallo, who has written #BlackInSchool (University of Regina Press) will participate in a book-signing and sidewalk party at ADBCC from 5:15-6:15 p.m.
“Afrikan Wisdom represents an intersectional, cross-pollinated exploration of Black life – past, present, and future. Award-winning author and editor, Valerie Mason-John (Vimalasara)’s collection of 34 essays – written by an eclectic and inspirational group of Black thought leaders and teachers – reflects on the unique and multi-layered experience of being Black in the world today.”
#BlackInSchool is Cooper Diallo’s high school journal, in which she documents, processes, and resists the systemic racism, micro-aggressions, stereotypes, and outright racism she experienced in Canada’s education system.
On the closing day of the Book Affair, October 17, Aina-Nia Ayo’dele will launch her new book, Self: An Inner Journey to Re-Membering Your Power, at The Diner’s Corner, 678 Yonge Street in Toronto. This is a ticketed event, with limited seating, and those interested should RSVP at aina-nia.com. The event will be live-streamed on Facebook Live.
The ancient wisdom teacher, leadership coach and spiritual liberation activist is on a mission “to influence individual and institutional change, by inspiring everyone to Re-Member their Power.”
The first in her 5-part tablet series, the author says, “Self comes from my own journey to remembering my power and the wisdom I have shared with students and audiences across the globe.”
For more information on the event, visit: www.eventbrite.ca/e/black-and-caribbean-book-affair-2021-thursday-oct-14-17-2021-tickets-181212460347?aff=ebdssbonlinesearch.
Editor’s note: The author will be in conversation with Olive Senior, Ivelyn Harris, and will also be a co-moderator of the panel discussion celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection.