(Updated February 2019). Each year when February rolls around there is a sudden influx of content, online, in libraries and elsewhere, featuring black writers, artists, activists and historical moments and figures. Much of the focus looks to the past and while that’s important, we at Room want to also centre writers in the here and now, and also look to the future.
Here is a list of some of our most beloved black Canadian women and non-binary writers to enjoy all year round, compiled by some of the Room collective. Our list is certainly not an exhaustive one but these are some of our favourites.
1. Jael Richardson
Jael Richardson (photo credit: Arden Wray) is the founder and artistic director of the ground breaking literary festival, the Festival of Literary Diversity. She often writes about family and identity, and you can read about her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey, in her memoir, The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, a Father's Life. Keep an eye on Richardson, in 2020 her debut novel, Gutter Child, will be published with HarperCollins Canada.—NK
2. Pamela Mordecai
Pamela Mordecai is a novelist, poet, and playwright. Mordecai often writes about diaspora and the experience of being Caribbean. She has written several short story collections and many books including de book of Mary, a performance poem, a retelling that explores the biblical story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but written in Jamaican creole. —NK
3. Canisia Lubrin
Canisia Lubrin (photo credit: Anna Keenan) was born in St. Lucia and has been published widely in many journals, including Room. Her poetry collection, Voodoo Hypothesis, uses folklore from St. Lucia and magic to explore blackness, identity, and contemporary racism. —NK
4. M. NourbeSe Philip
In her distinguished career, Philip has published many books of poetry, fiction, and essays, as well as two plays. Philip’s incisive and often-experimental writing explores race, social justice, and gender. Her 1989 poetry collection, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, a beautiful and complex exploration of language and colonialism, won the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize. To learn more about M. NourbeSe Philip, read our interview. —AMC
5. Afua Cooper
Afua Cooper is a dub poet, historian, and author of numerous books and albums of poetry. Her groundbreaking book, The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal, which chronicles the story of a slave named Marie-Joseph Angélique in 18th-century Quebec, was nominated for the 2006 Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Since 2011, Cooper has taught at Dalhousie University as the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies. In 2018, she became the seventh Poet Laureate of the Halifax Regional Municipality.—AMC
6. Nalo Hopkinson
A writer of imaginative award-winning stories, Hopkinson weaves Caribbean folklore with speculative fiction and fantasy. In her 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring, she depicts a deteriorating, dystopian Toronto where a young woman uses her magical powers to take on evil forces that threaten her community. Among other awards and nominations she has received over her career, Hopkinson won the 1999 Locus Award for Best First Novel and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for Brown Girl. —AMC
7. Djamila Ibrahim
The Toronto-based Ibrahim (photo credit: Dana Jensens) is an emerging writer we’re keeping an eye on. Her debut short story collection, Things Are Good Now, has generated buzz online for its sensitive exploration of migrant experience. Set in Canada, the United States, the Middle East, and East Africa, the characters in Things navigate love and family as they strive to belong. —AMC
8. Juliane Okot Bitek
Juliane Okot Bitek writes essays, poetry, short stories and nonfiction. Her work has been published widely, including in Arc, Room, and the anthology, The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. Juliane’s writing often explores themes surrounding diaspora, citizenship and more. Juliane recently joined the board of directors of Room. Of her poetry collection, 100 days, our own Jónína Kirton shares the following:
“I am deeply humbled by this book. Juliane’s words flow like water and like water they are deceptively dangerous (in all the best possible ways.) This book asks us to be a sacred witness to what took place in Rwanda. While reading it I could not tell where their stories ended and mine began. I was swept away in the rushing waters of a world that had gone crazy. The fate of those lost and of those that survived and had to carry on, became my story to carry. But it did not feel like a burden. Instead it reminded me that we are all in this together. We cannot afford to look away.” —JK
9. Whitney French
A curator, creator, and writer, Whitney is one to watch. She has been published in Quill and Quire, Geist, Descant Magazine, and anthologized in The Black Notes (2017) and The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry (2010). She also founded and serves as co-editor of the nation-wide publication From the Root Zine. She also founded Writing While Black, an initiative to develop a community of black writers, now in its third year. We’re looking forward to reading her forthcoming anthology of creative non-fiction by black Canadians, Black Writing Matters (University of Regina Press). —NK
10. Sarah Kabamba
Sarah Kabamba is no stranger to Room. Published in the Women of Colour issue, and the winner of our 2015 fiction contest and Room's 2017 Emerging Writer Award, Sarah is on the rise and likely to be one of the biggest names in writing to come. In 2017, she shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. You can find Sarah’s past writing in Carleton Now, Room, In/Words Magazine & Press, Canthius, and The New Quarterly. She is currently working on a collection of poetry. —NK
11. Robyn Maynard
Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist who has spent years documenting racist and gender-based state violence. She has spent the better part of the decade doing frontline harm-reduction outreach work in Montreal, and continues to provide trainings for health and social service providers on the harms created by systemic racism, criminal laws and stigmatization. Her most recent book, Policing Black Lives, is getting amazing extremely positive reviews and will most likely make many bestseller lists. —NK
Obi Simic (photo credit: Maja Villarroel) was born in Montreal, Quebec and raised in a small suburb just off the island. Obi holds an Honours Bachelor degree in Psychology and a minor in English. Obi’s first book, Getting Over Yonder, is a timely story that touches on issues such as violence, racism, language prejudice, and other forms of intolerance not only affecting Quebec, but the entire nation. —NK
13. Lynx Sainte-Marie
Lynx is a disabled/chronically ill, queer, non-binary/genderfluid Afro+Goth poet and multimedia artist whose work explores themes around identity and survival and challenges ableism, anti-blackness, racism and other dominant structures. Lynx has been published in Deaf Poet’s Society, Plenitude, and more. —NK
14. Suzette Mayr
Suzette Mayr is a critically acclaimed novelist, poet, and academic. Her work often explores racism in the context of Canadian culture. Her book Monoceros won the ReLit Award and the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. Her most recently published book, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, uses satire to explore the world of academia as a young English professor tries to navigate the world of university politics. —NK
15. Simone Dalton
Simone is a writer on the rise, currently completing her MFA at the University of Guelph. Her work story “Undersigned" was published in The Unpublished City, curated by Dionne Brand. You can read Simone’s latest essay “What Will You Tell Your Children,” in the forthcoming Black Writing Matters, edited by Whitney French. —NK
16. Aisha Sasha John
Aisha Sasha John (Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski) was born in Montreal and is a poet, dancer, and choreographer. Her work often explores the relationship between dance and poetry. She has written three poetry collections including, The Shining Material (2011); THOU (2014), which was a finalist for both the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the ReLit Poetry Award; and I have to live (2017), which was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. She also published a chapbook called Gimme yr little quiet. —NK
17. Adebe DeRango-Adem
Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published three poetry collections, Ex Nihilo (2010), Terra Incognita (2015), and The Unmooring. In Terra Incognita, she explores interracial identity. She has also been published in Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies, Toronto Star, and Room. —NK
18. Shauntay Grant
Shauntay Grant is a writer and storyteller from Halifax, and served as the city's third Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011. Her poetry has been published in Contemporary Verse 2 (CV2) and the The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry. Grant also writes books for children, including Africville (House of Anansi, 2018), which tells the story of the African Nova Scotian community by the same name. The book was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award in Young People’s Literature. In January 2019, Grant’s play The Bridge premiered at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.—NK
19. Christina Cooke
Christina Cooke is a writer born in Jamaica who splits her time between the U.S. and Canada. She also was the co-editor of Room’s Women of Colour issue, a former collective member, and someone who I miss working with dearly. Her work has appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Epihany: A literary Journal, Sou’wester, and PRISM International. Pris A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I have no doubt we’ll be seeing even more great works from her soon. —NK
20. Chelene Knight
We'll end this post with a plug for our incredible managing editor, Chelene Knight. Chelene's first collection of poetry, Braided Skin, explores growing up mixed-race in Vancouver, and her second book, a memoir called Dear Current Occupant, was published in 2018 with Book*hug by the end of February 2018. Later that year, Dear Current Occupant won the 2018 City of Vancouver Book Award. Knight is currently working on a novel, Junie, a novel that takes place in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley. Knight will be the guest editor of the League of Poets Chapbook Series: Black Poets Edition, forthcoming in 2020. In addition to being a wonderful writer and mentor, Chelene is a compassionate, tireless advocate for social change and equity and inclusion in CanLit. If you enjoy her editorial work at Room, I strongly encourage you to check out her own writing. —MB
Want even more recommendations? Read: Black History Month: Our Favourite Canadian Writers.
Still want more? Read our interview with Donna Bailey Nurse on Black Women’s Writing.
Did we miss your favourite writer? Let us know @RoomMagazine on Twitter.
Nailah King is a lover of pop culture, gifs, and literature, of course! She is an alumna from UBC in English Literature and moved to Toronto last year to chase those publishing dreams. She is currently working on a web series, a novel, and retaining her sanity.
Alissa McArthur is a former Vancouverite now based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, canlit.ca, 24 Hours Vancouver, and Room 37.3. She worked at Canadian Literature, a quarterly academic journal, where she helped research, write, edit, and code HTML for CanLit Guides, an online teaching resource for literature instructors. You can follow her on Twitter at @alissakeiko.
Jónína Kirton, a prairie-born Métis/Icelandic poet and facilitator, currently lives in the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people. She joined Room Magazine’s editorial board in early 2015 and is also a member of Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio advisory board. Visit her at joninakirton.wix.com/poet.
Meghan Bell is Room's publisher. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, Grain, The Impressment Gang, The Puritan, The Maynard, SAD Magazine, The New Quarterly, Carousel, The Minola Review, and Tesseracts 21.