The annual Word Vancouver festival is back again with a massively varied menu of author readings, workshops, and events, set to run at venues around town from September 24 to 28. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which books gripped their imaginations early on? Which ones showed them what words can be made to do?
Here’s what Vancouver poet and essayist Wayde Compton told us. He’s the author of such acclaimed works as 49th Parallel Psalm and After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region. He’ll be reading from his new short-story collection, The Outer Harbour, at 11:30 a.m. on September 28, in the fest’s Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
At a time that I was trying to work out how to write from the unlikely site of western Canada in a way that connected to the larger literary traditions of the black diaspora, I stumbled across Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues by George Elliott Clarke. Clarke is from Nova Scotia—the complete opposite end of the country from me in B.C.—but I recognized in his poems a familiar sense of being on the Canadian periphery, and of having an alternate connection to global black experiences.
Clarke’s book is created out of the rich rhythms of black dialect. It also speaks to specifically regional themes and sensibilities. For example, Clarke includes a suite of poems in the book about a series of black Nova Scotian churches, their histories and locations, as places on Canadian ground marked by our presence.
The book woke me up to the possibilities of looking at British Columbia in a similar way, as a specific site of black cultural production. In many ways I’m still writing in answer to the revelation that was Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues, and Clarke’s astonishing poetry.