The works of poets from across the nation are collected in The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry (Frontenac House), a 256-page anthology that helps to tell the often never-heard stories of black Canadian experiences. The book represents a huge creative range in the work of more than 90 poets, from page-based approaches to dub and slam—from George Elliott Clarke to Lillian Allen and Prufrock Shadowrunner.
The book is also wildly overdue: according to its preface, The Great Black North is the first anthology of its kind in over 30 years.
The official launch of Black History Month at Vancouver City Hall on February 1 was also the launch of Great Black North.
Poet Juliane Okot Bitek, who has also written for the Georgia Straight, read her poem "Diaspora" from the anthology at City Hall.
(Apologies for some of the technical difficulties present in the videos below.)
Editor and spoken-word artist Kevan Anthony Cameron (aka Scruffmouth) talked about the book and "Afro-peripheralism", a term Vancouver writer Wayde Compton used to describe being black in Vancouver.
Editor and performance poet Valerie Mason-John (aka Queenie) talked about her experience of coming to Canada from England and what she learned about black Canadian history from this book.
The book is being launched across Canada this month, with events in Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa, and Gibsons, B.C.
In fact, there's also a free event tonight (February 4, 5 to 7 p.m.) at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch (350 West Georgia Street). The launch kicks off with a reception at 5 p.m. and continues with performances and Q&As at 5:30. Mason-John, Cameron, and Okot Bitek will all be there, along with poets Storma Sire, Joy Russell, Jillian Christmas, and Siobhan Barker.