news | Wednesday February 1, 2023

Black History Month

Black History Month is here! February is an ideal time to spend time with, showcase, and enjoy the brilliance of the Black writers and artists who have always shaped culture and continue to do so.

We would like to celebrate some of the phenomenal Black authors we’ve had the pleasure of working with recently.

The latest poetry collection from Cecily Nicholson, HARROWINGS, was released fall of 2022. In this incredible poetry collection, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Governor General’s Award winner continues her tradition of featuring rich, prominent settings and using them to explore how the past seeds forward into the present. Nicholson’s work, engrossing and impactful, addresses the structural and the personal. She turns a light on both violent, carceral, white supremacist institutions, and the nuances of daily life within the current landscape. Nicholson as a poet is not merely a participant in the world, but also a sort of social archaeologist, committed to digging deeper. HARROWINGS connects with Black intellectual and art history in relation to agriculture. The poems include pulses of memoir from the poet’s childhood growing up on a farm, as well as from more recent pandemic experiences volunteering for a local agricultural enterprise led by people who were formerly incarcerated.


“carceral and climate do not pull apart in justice

is a view of the coast across the narrowest reach

all the water inside

movings in tides like the sea

an ebb bulges high

our bare soles warm the soil at planting times”

Another recent work we’d love to highlight is Moving the Centre, which consists of two plays – Small Axe and Freedom Singer – that lean into the possibilities of verbatim theatre to approach questions of justice, identity, and the complex history all around us. Small Axe follows a queer white playwright, Andrew Kushnir, who feels compelled to investigate homophobia in Jamaica. What starts as an artist researching injustice evolves into an excavation of self and the stories we claim of others. Freedom Singer by writer and musician Khari Wendell McClelland is a musical/verbatim theatre hybrid, constructed from hard-won archival material and family lore, documenting Wendell McClelland’s search for his ancestral grandmother Kizzy and the songs she may have sung during her escape through the Underground Railroad. For him, the “songs are like maps” leading back to the past, the enduring impacts of slavery, and our capacity to lovingly reunite with censored histories. Along with an opening essay by Andrew Kushnir and a concluding essay by Khari Wendell McClelland, the book’s literal centre (in between the plays) is a dialogue where the two discuss the white gaze vs. Black “looking back,” theatre-as-a-practice, and how centring caring and equitable relationships can make this kind of challenging theatre more ethical, more viable, and more truthful.

From Freedom Singer :

“There’s always these multiple levels of metaphor in the songs. Within the content lyrically … it’s hard to often know exactly what people are thinking … People are going to speak coded language about the oppression they’re facing and they will come up with creative ways to thrive and survive and sometimes mock the oppressors, mock the oppression they’re facing, as well as deliver themselves messages of hope.

The songs are like maps. Right?”

Finally, we are delighted to announce that the poetry collection Song & Dread is forthcoming from the amazing poet and scholar Otoniya J. Okot Bitek. Her collection of poetry 100 Days (University of Alberta Press, 2016) won the 2017 IndieFab Book of the Year Award for poetry and the 2017 Glenna Lushei Prize for African Poetry. Okot Bitek is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Queen’s University, where she teaches and writes in the English and Gender Studies Departments.

The poems in Song & Dread meditate on the symbiotic, paradoxical relationship between the quotidian and the extraordinary in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. They examine at what thrived and what withered under lockdown’s pall. Okot Bitek’s work remarks on the way this global crisis has disproportionately affected working-class and BIPOC individuals, especially Black people. We can’t wait to share this title with you!

We are tremendously honoured to have had the opportunity to work with such fantastic authors.

This month and every month, Black voices to centre stage. This month and every month, read Black authors.

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