The theme of this year’s Black History Month is February and Forever. This month, we are invited to not only remember and celebrate the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities, but also their contributions in the here and now, which enrich the multithreaded tapestry of our country. I thought this would be a great opportunity to list some recent and current works by Black Canadian authors, all of which you can borrow from VPL!
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole
Desmond Cole shatters the assumptions that Canada is a post-racist nation by chronicling the events of a single year (2017), which was also Canada’s 150th as a country. It was a time of, among other things, calls for borders to be tightened against Black refugees from the States crossing through Manitoba, Indigenous peoples fighting for land and water protection against invasive and damaging pipelines, and police rallying around an officer accused of murder.
Cole also details his own experiences with, and efforts, to combat systemic racism, prejudices and injustices. He took part in a protest against carding, severed his relationship with the Toronto Star after being told his activism was against company policy (and then, in 2021, had an article from that same publication talk about the apparent exhaustion and difficulty he causes ‘The Black Community’; read a response to that here), and was arrested after demanding answers from the police board regarding the accusations of a coverup in a case of police brutality.
The Skin We’re In is a month-by-month breakdown of the systemic inequality that Black Canadians still face and grapple with not only in 2017, but to this day.
They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis
With a subtitle that reads Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up, this memoir details Eternity Martis’ perspective as a Black Canadian at a university where she was one of the very few people of colour, including the racism she faced in the form of slurs and students in blackface at parties, the more subtle but equally detrimental tokenism and microaggressions, the difficulties of feeling alone and visibly Other, and the ascriptions of labels such as ‘abuse survivor’ or ‘bad feminist’.
Over the course of four years, Martis would deal with all this and more, but emerge by graduation with a stronger sense of self and a support network. This memoir documents not only pain, current and historical, but resilience and hope.
Saga Boy by Antonio Michael Downing
A memoir of memory, mythology, the immigrant experience, and the question of identity. When he is 11 years old, Downing’s grandmother and guardian passes away, and he is moved from Trinidad and into the house of his Evangelical aunt in Waubigoon, a largely Indigenous community in northern Ontario, where he and his older brother are the only black children in town.
There he finds a passion for music and performance and discovers its power of reinvention, and spends years searching for a sense of home and belonging despite the chains of family dysfunction and trauma that bind him. Over time, he transforms from a lonely immigrant boy to a man who has overcome abandonment, adversity, and loss to reclaim his heritage and sense of self.
Uncle by Cheryl Thompson
Thompson explores the concept of an ‘Uncle Tom’ (a derogatory term for a Black man who is considered to be subservient and servile to white people at the expense of his dignity) and those who have been labelled so, such as Jackie Robinson, President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, O.J. Simpson and Christopher Darden, among others.
The original ‘Uncle Tom’ was, however, a character from an abolitionist novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and he was a loyal Christian who died a martyr’s death protecting two black women. Thompson traces the origin of Uncle Tom from heroic character to racial trope and exposes the relentless pursuit to rework history and narratives and shape how Black men are perceived, a pursuit that continues to this day.
Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo
Nigerian-Canadian Azere promised her father on his deathbed that she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture. It’s an easy promise to make at twelve years old—but things change when, years later and disappointed with her mother’s matchmaking efforts she meets Rafael Castellano, a tall, handsome…white man.
Their one night stand evolves soon into something more, and Azere is forced to reckon with the longings of her heart and whether or not following it will mean compromising her identity and betraying her connection to her family and culture, or if who she is can encompass all that she cares for.
Like Home by Louisa Onomé
Chinelo loves her home and as far as she’s concerned, the best of the world is contained in her neighbourhood, Ginger East. But it’s changing from what it used to be—after a dangerous incident at the local arcade, all her friends move away, except for Kate, her best friend. And then Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, and a media circus descends upon her home, determined to “fix” it.
Nelo doesn’t think it needs fixing, or at least, not the fixing being offered, where everything’s going to be changed according to other people’s standards, people who don’t know and love and appreciate her home for what it used to be. Worse, Kate’s been treating her different, and Nelo feels lost, confused, and…betrayed. Like Home is a story about gentrification and its effects on the community, as much as it is a story of friendship and home.
Charming As A Verb by Ben Philippe
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger is a modern day prince charming, but his easygoing attitude disguises the burning passion that drives him. He dreams of attending Columbia University, and comes up with a vaguely dishonest dog walking scheme to help achieve that dream.
The only person who isn’t fooled by his smile is Corrinne Troy, and even less so when she finds out about his plans. Corinne blackmails him into applying his charm to help her revamp her image at school, and Henri agrees, aware this could help him in return. What starts out as a mutual hustle turns into something more than either of them could have expected…
A delightful, quippy romcom, an exploration of self-expression, and an insightful look into what it means to be yourself.
Facing The Sun by Janice Lynn Mather
Set in the Caribbean, this story follows four friends during an exceptional summer, where a hotel development threatens the sanctity, beauty, and accessibility of their community beach. But more than that, they each have tumultuous events affecting their personal lives.
Eve’s father is diagnosed with cancer, and managing her six siblings suddenly goes from something she’s used to handling to too much—all she wants is some carefree fun away from her worries. Faith is a dancer popular with all the boys…except the one she likes the most. But the fun flirting is doing less and less to distract her from her home life or the secrets she’s hiding. KeeKee is a poet who flouts whatever rules she pleases, until a devastating betrayal forces her to reevaluate her approach to life. Nia feels trapped by her overbearing mother, and an art program seems like just the ticket to escape. If only it didn’t come with such a high price that might undermine all that reward…
Gutter Child by Jael Ealey Richardson
This dystopian novel takes place in a world that is is divided between the Gutter and the Mainland, and where the indigenous people of the Gutter must labour to earn their freedom, in payment and as punishment for a long-ago rebellion against the colonizers of the Mainland.
Elimina is one of a hundred Gutter children adopted by Mainland parents as part of a social experiment. For a while she enjoys a life of privilege and plenty…but her life is changed irrevocably after her foster mother’s death. Elimina is thrust from a life of freedom into a life of servitude and must find a way to adapt to her change in circumstance and the shattering of her identity in a world of systemic disparity and injustice.
The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley
Iris is an African tightrope walker in Victorian London, and is a strange curiosity to the Londoners who come to gawk at her. But that’s not what’s really strange about her. Iris has a secret—she can’t die.
What’s more, she has no memories of her past. Haunted by her strange power and the questions of who she is and why she can do (or can’t do) what she does, Iris is determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding her. Adam Temple seems to offer her answers, but also more questions, for he’s part of a secret committee.
And what’s more, Adam tells her that the world is ending, and his committee are the ones who’ll decide who survives the upcoming apocalypse, by virtue of a tournament of champions. Adam wants Iris to be his champion and win the tournament, but the more Iris gets involved, the more she begins to wonder if she really wants to know the truth of herself…
Given by Nandi Taylor
Yenni is a princess of the Yirba and is engaged to the prince of a neighbouring tribe. She knows it’s her duty to marry him, but her father’s illness is worsening and—determined to save him at any cost—Yenni sets off on a sacred journey to the empire of Cresh to find him a cure, even if failure means the wrath of her gods and the ruin of her people.
Complication arrives in the form of Weysh, a dragon shifter who claims she’s his soul-mate, and is exactly the kind of distraction Yenni doesn’t need. Except having a dragon as a friend turns out to be useful…and her fondness for his creature form begins to transfer to him in his human form, forcing Yenni to decide if she can still be a dutiful princess when her heart is yearning for something (and someone) else.
Dear Black Girls by Shanice Nicole
Written by Shanice Nicole and vibrantly illustrated by Kezna Dalz , this poem shows that no two Black girls are alike even if they all fall under the wonderful umbrella of ‘being Black’, and that they are all beautiful and special for their uniqueness.
This book reminds readers differences are to be celebrated, that everyone deserves to be loved and included, and no one should be made to feel alone or disliked for who they are, how they live their lives, or what they look like.
Hockey Night in Kenya by Danson Mutinda and Eric Walters
Kitoo and Nigosi are two Kenyan orphans, who, like most other boys their age, spend their days studying, playing soccer, helping with chores and going to their local library.
Kitoo is a big reader, and when he sees a copy of Sports Around the World, he is fascinated by the Canadian national men’s ice hockey team. Destiny seems to manifest: Kitoo finds a pair of old roller blades, Nigosi helps fix them up, and Kitoo teaches himself to skate, dreaming of playing hockey just like the men in his book.
But you can’t play ice hockey in Kenya…can you?
Say Her Name by Zetta Elliot
Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign, these poems remember and honour the victims of police brutality and activists fighting for the justice, equality, and personhood of Black lives. This book features poets from the past two hundred years, creating a diverse collection of works on the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls.
Elliot invites you to read and be moved by fourty-nine different poems, and remember Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley, and the tragedy and injustice of their loss.
For further resources, check out this list of works by Black Canadian authors, and another list of 9 Must-Read Novels by Black authors. If you have any recommendations of books from our catalogue, don’t hesitate to drop the titles in the comments below. If you want to recommend something we don’t yet have on our shelves, fill out this form to suggest a purchase! VPL is always looking to improve and update our collection items.
Until next time, happy Black History Month!