Books: The Black Canadian experience given voice in Africanthology

New anthology reveals writers’ lives and perspectives in terms of geography, gender identity, ethnocultural background and their work

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The murder of George Floyd at the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and the impact it had on people around the world, propelled editor A. Gregory Frankson to finally bring Africanthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets to life.

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“The anthology has been an idea I have been carrying around for almost a decade,” Frankson said recently over the phone from his home in Whitby, Ont. “The situation that evolved with George Floyd kind of made it even more important and pressing me to create this collection and to get it out into the public. The voices of Black folks are important to the national conversation.”

Frankson, who is a poet, writer, educator, speaker and community advocate, wanted the book to be a broad representation of the Black Canadian experience in terms of geography, gender identity, ethnocultural background and level of experience in writing. That plan has succeeded as the recently released Africanthology, with its wide range of contributors, offers a clear, engaging and accessible route into the work of contemporary Black Canadian writers and their experiences and perspectives on Blackness in this country.

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“I think that most Canadians should read this book if they are really interested in expanding their understanding and knowledge of the Black Canadian experience,” said Frankson.

BC residents Cicely Belle Blain, Valerie Mason-John and Wayde Compton are among the 20 writers in this collection who are sharing their perspectives on how they move through this country and the world.

The idea behind Africanthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets was spurred on by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The idea behind Africanthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets was spurred on by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Photo by Courtesy of Renaissance Press

Originally from London, UK, Blain is perhaps most well-known for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver. A teacher at Simon Fraser University and an in-demand consultant, Blain released their first book of poetry Burning Sugar last year and contributed the poem The Other Queer and the essay Police Abolition in Canada: A Black, Queer, Non-Binary Demand to Africanthology .

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“I think it is incredible. I think it is very exciting to be asked to be a part of it, especially as some of these folks have so many published books under their belts. I still feel quite fresh in the Canadian literary scene, so it’s quite exciting to be among these amazing writers,” Blain said by phone.

Frankson was not prescriptive with the writers when he asked them to contribute.

'I think that most Canadians should read this book if they are really interested in expanding their understanding and knowledge of the Black Canadian experience,' says editor A. Gregory Frankson, who brought together 20 Black Canadian writers for Africanthology.
‘I think that most Canadians should read this book if they are really interested in expanding their understanding and knowledge of the Black Canadian experience,’ says editor A. Gregory Frankson, who brought together 20 Black Canadian writers for Africanthology. Photo by Sanker Media

“He had curated a list of writers that could offer different perspectives and he knew my work speaking about the queer Black experience and things like that,” said Blain, who is focusing on poetry these days. “He didn’t say specifically I had to do that, but he asked me if that was something that I wanted to touch on. I had already started that poem and it didn’t have a home and I thought that this was a good place to put it. The essay was to complement or accompany the poem, to kind of give it more explanation, I suppose.”

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The result of that lack of boundaries in Frankson’s brief to the writers is a kind of looseness in the wide-ranging menu of offerings in the collection, including a riveting work of fiction — the only one in the book — by Gibsons-based Valerie Mason -John.

The story Blud Dimons takes the reader back in time to 1994 and the violent blood diamond era of Sierra Leone. Mason-John interviewed rebels and used their stories for this story, which she hopes one day will be part of a novel.

“It is so unique. It stands out and makes a powerful point about Valerie’s ethnocultural background of her and the issues they really want to focus on through their artistic creation of her, ”said Frankson.

'I still feel quite fresh in the Canadian literary scene, so it's quite exciting to be among these amazing writers,' says Metro Vancouver poet and activist Cicely Belle Blain, who teaches at Simon Fraser University and is a founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver.
‘I still feel quite fresh in the Canadian literary scene, so it’s quite exciting to be among these amazing writers,’ says Metro Vancouver poet and activist Cicely Belle Blain, who teaches at Simon Fraser University and is a founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. Photo by Cicely Belle Blain

Blud Dimons, while set decades ago, resonates in today’s war-torn world, something Mason-John is quick to point out.

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“We could actually say this war happening in Ukraine is blood oil,” UK native Mason-John said by phone. “Blood fossil fuels. You know we will always be fighting over something else. Fighting over who gets to dominate?”

Also in Africanthology, is Mason-John’s poem Another One Bites the Dust, from their own collection I’m Still Your Negro.

“I feel absolutely honored to be in this anthology. The recognition of being an African-Canadian writer and the recognition of being an African Canadian who is contributing to the life of Canada is good,” said Mason-John, who has developed a BIPOC mindfulness course and created an online African Wisdom Summit.

“You know I lived in the UK, and I had a track record. Then you come here, and things change. When I got that invite, I thought ‘Yeah, I’ve landed. I’m part of this community.’”

dgee@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dana_gee


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