It’s officially March, and Black History Month 2020 has come to an end. Nevertheless, at QWF we feel that a single month shouldn’t contain our enthusiasm for supporting Black culture and heritage in Quebec! That’s why we’ve chosen to launch our new series, “People, Places, and Things We Love in Literary Quebec,” with an appreciation of the remarkable work of several members of the QWF community, the current Quebec scene, and historical Quebec.
There’s no day like everyday to learn about and celebrate the major contributions Black authors, organizers, and historical figures have made, and continue to make, to our vibrant community.
1. Tanya Evanson – poet, performer, producer
Tanya’s work spans a 20-year career, and appears in print, audio, video, and live performances. Catch her live performances, Sufi meditation sessions, and workshops on spoken word around Montreal, and all across North America!
2. Kaie Kellough – novelist, poet, and sound performer
Kaie’s third book of poetry, Magnetic Equator, was shortlisted for the 2019 QWF A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. His most recent publication, and sophomore novel, Dominoes at the Crossroads, was published last month by Vehicule Press, and launched on February 19 at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly.
3. Jason “Blackbird” Selman – poet, producer, editor, and jazz trumpeter
Author of The Freedom I Stole (Cumulus Press, 2007) and Africa as a Dream that Travels Through my Heart (Howl, 2016), Jason has made contributions to Black Theatre Workshop’s Youth Works program and has performed regularly with the improv music collective Kalmunity; those are just a couple of ways he makes an impression on the Montreal arts scene. His work is heavily influenced by ethno-musicology, taking inspiration from jazz, soul, reggae, spoken word, and hip hop music. Follow Kalmunity’s performances around Montreal, every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday.
4. Exile Blues by Douglas Gary Freeman (Published by Baraka Books)
Montreal-based English-language publisher Baraka Books aims to keep books as a “haven of freedom and the foremost vector for change.” Douglas Gary Freeman’s novel Exile Blues (2019) is a fictionalized autobiography of a Black man living in segregated Washington, D.C. in the 1950s, who flees to Montreal after being caught up in altercations with the police as an outspoken activist. Events of Freeman’s own life are reflected in Exile Blues, as he himself was a U.S. refugee in Canada who harrowingly navigated years of prison and extradition.
5. Bonnie Farmer – Oscar Lives Next Door
Local author, playwright, and teacher Bonnie Farmer grew up in Little Burgundy—the same neighbourhood as Montreal’s very own virtuoso jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. In the book, Bonnie imagines Oscar as a young boy through the eyes of a young girl named Millie who lives next door to him. Millie befriends Oscar and their friendship blossoms, even through Oscar’s extended stays in the hospital due to tuberculosis—an affliction which led him to pick up piano playing after having to abandon the trumpet. The illustrations in this beautiful children’s book reflect Little Burgundy’s history and its inherent link to Black culture and music. Bonnie was awarded the QWF Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2016 for Oscar Lives Next Door (Owlkids Books, 2015).
In 2001, Professor Charmaine Nelson became the first Black tenure or tenure-track professor in the McGill Art History Department; she remains the only one to this day. Charmaine’s research and numerous publications shed much-needed light on subjects such as the representation of Black bodies in art and the othering of African and Indigenous populations through juxtapositions of Montreal and Jamaican landscape paintings. Charmaine’s publications frequently include primary sources such as travel narratives, plantation ledgers, merchant cash books, and planters’ journals.
7. H. Nigel Thomas – poet, author, literary critic, lecturer, professor, co-founder and co-host of the Logos Reading Series
Professor H. Nigel Thomas has several publications to his name, including four novels, one of which – Spirits in the Dark – was shortlisted for the 1994 Quebec Writers’ Federation Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. A former Montreal high-school teacher and now a retired professor of American literature, Nigel was honoured in February 2020 with Black Theatre Workshop’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, in light of his contributions to developing and elevating Black arts and cultural life. Nigel co-hosts the monthly Lectures Logos Readings.
8. Marie-Joseph Angélique – Black woman and Portuguese-born slave in 18th century New France
Marie-Joseph Angélique is possibly the most well known slave in early Montreal history, and one of the most remembered Black persons from her time. After a long, rebellious history as a runaway slave, Angélique was accused of setting fire to her owner’s house and burning down much of what is now Old Montreal. She was captured and hanged as punishment, though the only non-fictional account of her trial from 2004 suggests that she was innocent of this crime. In spite of this, she is often portrayed not as a victim of a miscarriage of justice, but, as Afua Cooper puts it, as an “immortal avatar for liberation.”
Read up on Angélique and more about Black history in Canada and Quebec in Cooper’s The Hanging of Angélique: Canada, Slavery and the Burning of Montreal (University of Georgia Press, 2007), or see Black Theatre Workshop’s co-production of Angélique by Montreal-born playwright Loreena Gale, on tour in March and April 2020.
9. Kama La Mackerel – multi-disciplinary artist, cultural mediator, educator, writer, literary translator
Kama’s written and performance work emerges from the intersection of theoretical research and histories– both personal and shared. Born in Mauritius and living in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal) since 2012, Kama has performed in galleries and public spaces across the city, country, and continent, and has been a key factor in developing the queer performance scene in Montreal, presenting 650+ performances from over 300+ artists over the span of five years. In 2016, for International Women’s Day, Kama was honoured by the CBC/Radio Canada as one of the 9 artists whose work is making a difference in Canada. Kama’s recent translation projects — L’enfant de fourrure, de plumes, d’écailles, de feuilles et de paillettes by Éditions Dents de Lion (originally From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea) and Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (both originally by Kai Cheng Thom), and a co-translation of J’ai peur des hommes by éditions du remue-ménage (originally I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya) — will be available in 2020.
10. Robyn Maynard – Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (Fernwood Publishing, 2017)
As a Black feminist author, freelance journalist, and longtime grassroots activist, Robyn Maynard saw a need to “capture the longstanding invisibility of the harms that Black people have been subjected to.” In a country where Black experiences are “disappeared from the media […] and our education system,” Maynard’s book outlines the reality of anti-blackness in many aspects of society, from slavery to prisons, to classrooms, and beyond, through nearly four hundred years of Black life in Canada. In 2018 the book had the rare distinction of being shortlisted for two QWF Awards–the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction.
11. Librairie Racines 2.0 – Gabriella Kinté
Hailing from a background in social work, Gabriella Kinté found that one of the most important aspects missing from young, Black lives was representation. Hence, the now two-year-old bookstore in Montréal-Nord, Librairie Racines 2.0. As the driving force behind this mostly volunteer-run gem, Gabriella aims to bridge the gaps in racial representation in Montreal’s literary scene. Librairie Racines gathers literature and artwork by (often local) Black and other PoC authors, and is quickly making a name for itself as a hub for community events.