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Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature

George Elliott Clarke
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 504
  • Book Info
    Odysseys Home
    Book Description:

    Governor General's Award-winning author George Elliott Clarke identifies African-Canadian literature's distinguishing characteristics, argues its relevance to both African Diasporic and Canadian Studies and critiques several of its key creators and texts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5986-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Embarkation: Discovering African-Canadian Literature
    (pp. 3-24)

    When I was a child, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the early 1960s, I knew that I was ‘Coloured’ because my father sat me and my two brothers in front of a mirror, held up a bowl of brown sugar, and bade us consider the sugar and our reflections. He said that we were brown like brown sugar, but that some people who look like white sugar do not like ‘Coloured’ people – people like us. He taught us this lesson because three white boys, only a little older than our four-year-old, three-year-old, and two-year-old selves, had called us ‘niggers’...


    • Contesting a Model Blackness: A Meditation on African-Canadian African-Americanism, or the Structures of African-Canadianité
      (pp. 27-70)

      As a youth, when I desired to flaunt my blackness in thetrèswhite citadel of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I wielded African-American culture. I blasted Parliament-Funkadelic jams in the hallways of my high school, and I found it both comforting andexcitingto shout out lines from Amiri Baraka and Carolyn M. Rodgers in mybourgeois, British-identified English class. I reviled Halifax, my native city, for it failed, I worried, to provide an ‘authentic’ black experience. We had no seditious civil rights agitation, for school segregation had been velvetly abolished by the provincial government between 1954 and the mid-1960s. There...

    • Must All Blackness Be American? Locating Canada in Borden’s ‘Tightrope Time,’ or Nationalizing Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic
      (pp. 71-85)

      As I suggested in ‘Contesting a Model Blackness,’ a primary ontological conundrum to confront the analyst of African-Canadian literature is as obvious as it is invidious: How Canadian is it? The question is insidious, but it cannot be peremptorily dismissed, for the literature is awash in African-American and Caribbean influences. These ‘presences’ are so palpable, so pervasive, that the literature may seldom seem ‘Canadian’ (whatever that means) at all. This essay explores, then, the supposed alterity of African-Canadian literature, given its bold-faced absorption of African-American literary modes and models. Yet, it also scrutinizes the manner in which one specific writer,...

    • The Career of Black English in Nova Scotia: A Literary Sketch
      (pp. 86-106)

      Like too many minority tongues globally, the speech of the majority of Africadians has long been ‘buked and scorned, repressed and suppressed, and denigrated asdialect,lingo,badorbrokenEnglish, andyink-yank. Theiraccenthas been labelledAmericanandSouthern. Their grammar has been treated as foreign, substandard, and deviant. Yet, their speech is as Nova Scotian as that of the province’s white majority.BlackEnglish has flourished in the province for three centuries. Recently, it has emerged as a vivacious literary and performance form in consonance with the popular efflorescence termed the Africadian Cultural Renaissance, which began to...

    • The Birth and Rebirth of Africadian Literature
      (pp. 107-125)

      An immediate distinction of Black Nova Scotian – or, to continue my use of my neologism,Africadian– literature is that it has had two, quite separate, annunciations – a first and second coming, so to speak. Nearly two centuries lapsed, moreover, before the original burgeoning was replenished by the second, a period I term the Africadian Renaissance. Though Africadian literature commenced in 1785, when John Marrant, an African-American Methodist missionary who lived in Nova Scotia from 1785 to 1789, published his popularNarrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black, a corpus of imaginative works did...

    • Syl Cheney-Coker’s Nova Scotia, or the Limits of Pan-Africanism
      (pp. 126-150)

      When scholars and writers have analysed the formation of Black Nova Scotia – or Africadia – between 1783 and 1815 and the establishment of Sierra Leone as a self-governing Crown Colony between 1787 and 1809, they have drawn distinctions injurious to Africadians. Yet, the first black settlers of Nova Scotia and the second-wave black settlers of Sierra Leone were, really, the same people. Both originated in the 3,400 or so African Americans, known as Black Loyalists, transported by Britain, from New York City to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Québec, England, and German states at the close of the American Revolutionary...

    • Toward a Conservative Modernity: Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Acadian and Africadian Poetry
      (pp. 151-162)

      The critique of modernity offered by conservative Canadian philosopher George Grant (1918–88) must be considered by those who would conserve a nationalist or regionalist poetic. If modernity (read by Grant as the cosmopolitan liberalism of international capitalism) dissolves nationalism and regional cultures, then the embracing of modern/post-modern² poetics by poets who issue from such cultures is imperilled. Significantly, the poets ofAcadieand of Nova Scotia’s Black Loyalist and Black Refugee–settled communities – an ethnocultural archipelago I termAfricadia– confront modernity without even the buffer of a state to call their own (though Acadians in New Brunswick...

    • Liberalism and Its Discontents: Reading Black and White in Contemporary Québécois Texts
      (pp. 163-181)

      In their wry, picaresque travelogueTwo Innocents in Red China(1968), coauthors Jacques Hébert (b. 1923) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919–2000) record the latter’s quip that ‘Chinese Marxists are like Quebec collegians. On questions of religion and sex, they lose their sang-froid’ (141). This incisive jest may also be applied to the Québécois intelligentsia, demonstrably if one addsraceto M. Trudeau’s taxonomy of disconcerting discourses. Indubitably, since 1945, Québécois intellectuals have frequently inked white/black racial metaphors to dramatize the polar conflict between liberalism and nationalism that annexes all serious political discourse inle bel état putatif.² I seek,...

    • Treason of the Black Intellectuals?
      (pp. 182-210)

      Because analysis often originates in pain, the feeling of crisis lashing the flesh, this essay – a combination of accusation and confession – commences with three anecdotes illustrative of the agonies that have provoked its being. First, in the summer of 1979, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during a provincial black youth conference I had helped to plan, a young, male representative of the Toronto-based Black Youth Community Action Project, frustrated by our joyously disorganized, anarchic proceedings, rose up and exclaimed, ‘There are too many mulattoes here.’ His allegation shocked me, for he was, if not Mulatto himself, then, certainly, of...

    • Canadian Biraciality and Its ‘Zebra’ Poetics
      (pp. 211-237)

      One constant problem for would-be black nationalist intellectuals has been the place – if any – of mixed-race blacks within their ‘world visions.’ African-Canadian intellectuals have also been driven to some ‘perplexion’ regarding the ‘black’ complexion that is not as ‘dark’ as some desire. Certainly, like all African diasporic writing, African-Canadian literature engages the symbol and the image of the mixed-race black, for this figure violates the sanctity of racial polarities, reminding Africans and Europeans of white-practised violence against enslaved African women. Scholar Richard Newman stresses that since ‘slaves were property, like animals or objects, they had no rights, and...

    • Clarke versus Clarke: Tory Elitism in Austin Clarke’s Short Fiction
      (pp. 238-252)

      Perusing Austin Chesterfield Clarke’s short stories, one catches, now and then, the distinctive odour of the entertainingandtawdry James Bond spy adventures authored by British writer Ian Fleming (1908–64). Too, both authors stud their pages with references to pricey autos and shapely women. (Or should that be shapely automobiles and pricey women?) Then there is their mutual attentiveness to high-stakes card games and horse races. (Clarke worksbothspecies of gambling into his short story ‘Give It a Shot’ [1987].) Conceivably, if Fleming were still alive, he would make an apt partner for Clarke in one of those...

    • Harris, Philip, Brand: Three Authors in Search of Literate Criticism
      (pp. 253-274)

      Criticism is never innocent, for it is the capital means, promises the U.S. African-Americanist Michael Bérubé, of imagining canons and manufacturing literary stars.² Though an instrument of empowerment, then, criticism can enact Machiavellian abuses, even when its intellectual force is utilized for pristine purposes. Indeed, one of the awful intoxications of literary theory is that one dreams that one can do socio-political good, dispelling illiberal forces of malice and ignorance, delivering into the illumination of academic discourse entire canons – or communities – which have been consigned to the limbo of marginality.³ The belief is praiseworthy, and doubly so when...

    • No Language Is Neutral: Seizing English for Ourselves
      (pp. 275-276)

      If black writers feel pressured to prove, practically continuously, their adeptness, their facility, with the imposed canons and grammars of Europe (and its demi-palimpsest, the New World), they also feel a kind of radical joy in subverting these strictures and structures. As African-American critic Houston A. Baker, Jr, professes, black writers practise a ‘deformation of mastery,’ a quasiguerilla action represented by the transformation of usually staid literary forms such as the sonnet into salient vehicles of protest (see Gwendolyn Brooks, see Claude McKay) and by the articulation of Afrocentric themes (i.e., our beauty, our triumphalist history, our essential Africanness). Every...


    • The Complex Face of Black Canada
      (pp. 279-284)

      A few summers ago, VIA Rail offered an enticing 50 per cent fare reduction for foreign visitors to Canada, but did not advertise the bargain, suspecting that it would anger Canadians whose taxes subsidize the corporation. I learned about the scheme while purchasing a ticket in Kingston, Ontario. The agent asked, stealthily, for my passport. I was puzzled. ‘What do you mean, my passport?’ She then advised me about the discount for foreigners, specifying that my ‘American accent’ marked me as an eligible passenger. I informed the agent that (as thetrèswhite beer commercial says) ‘I AM CANADIAN.’ But...

    • Viewing African Canada
      (pp. 285-287)

      To amend Ezra Pound, history is bad news that stays news. The point applies perhaps most vigorously to histories of disenfranchised polities, such as Québec (before 1960, or before 1976), or the First Nations, or Transplanted Africans, especially where constituted as minorities. Robin W. Winks takes this view in his epochal, almost impeccable tomeThe Blacks in Canada: A History, where he opines that African-Canadian history is ‘depressing’ and ‘petty.’ Winks lists several reasons for his judgment. Accounting for 3 per cent or less of the Canadian population, African Canadians have been numerically insignificant and, from the perspective of the...

    • The Death and Rebirth of Africadian Nationalism
      (pp. 288-296)

      This paean to the lost Afro–Nova Scotian community of Africville is a cinematic entry in a catalogue of cultural works seeking to rehabilitate the memory of the black-settled, Bedford Basin–located, Halifax village which was bulldozed into rubble and memorabilia between 1964 and 1970. The film depicts the experiences of some of the four hundred Africvillers who were relocated to inner-city public housing, and also provides the reflections of some of their relocators. Moreover, it subtly displays the rise of modern Afro–Nova Scotian (or, to use my word,Africadian) nationalism from the ruins of Africville.

      In the liner...

    • An Unprejudiced View of Two Africadian Poets
      (pp. 297-304)

      Let us read Maxine Tynes’s second book of poems,Woman Talking Woman, and David Woods’s first,Native Song. Both texts bear witness to the explosion of artistic activity occurring among African Nova Scotians – a two hundred-year-old community founded by African-American Loyalists who landed in the then-colony in 1783, fresh from their evacuation from New York City before it was ceded by the British to the revolutionary government of the fledgling United States of America.

      Both Tynes and Woods are conscious of racism, and they address its pernicious effects in their works. However, both arewritersfirst, and that is...

    • Reading Ward’s ‘Blind Man’s Blues’
      (pp. 305-307)

      I didn’t appreciate the import of Frederick Ward’s lyric ‘Blind Man’s Blues’ when I first read it, in 1986. I’d bought the book that contained it –The Curing Berry(1983) – from a funky, now-defunct Commielibrairie, Red Herring Books, on a cool, foggy, Haligonian afternoon, and probably started reading it on a bus bound for the city’s rough, proletarian North End.The Curing Berryis, astonishingly, the only book of poems Ward, an African American, has released. It must be out-of-print because the publisher, Williams-Wallace International of Toronto and Stratford, is out-of-business. No matter: that pioneering, black publisher...

    • African-Islanders
      (pp. 308-309)

      While the history of blacks in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick is somewhat known, that of the slave-founded community of Prince Edward Island has been a steady mystery. Fortunately,Black Islanders: Prince Edward Island’s Historical Black Community, a slim but panoramic history by Jim Hornby, a white lawyer and amateur historian, should increase knowledge of ‘African-Islanders,’ to use Hornby’s term, and, especially, of racism’s three faces, namely, ‘structural ideology,’ ‘social discrimination,’ and ‘personal prejudice.’ Effectively, the most poignant aspect of the history of the African-Islanders is their near-disappearance from the Island because of, Hornby writes, ‘a combination of out-migration...

    • Another Great Thing
      (pp. 310-312)

      The anglophone African-Canadian novel, since its modern début in the 1960s, has been typified by Austin Chesterfield Clarke’s Horatio Alger burlesques, in which striving West Indian male immigrants often achieve a middle-class lifestyle and respectability, but at the price of losing their authenticity, their ‘roots’ culture, or, if partially Americanized, theirblackness. Clarke’s fellow Barbadian-Canadian novelist, Cecil Foster, has continued to mine this ground, though with an emphasis on the necessity for black nationalism. In contrast,In Another Place, Not Here(1996), the Trinidadian-Canadian novelist Dionne Brand explores protagonists who reject every measure ofbourgeoissuccess except the asceticand...

    • Growing Up Black in Alberta
      (pp. 313-314)

      In deploring the poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness which often seem to demarcate those ghettoized and victimized by racism, it is too easy to overlook their assertions of their humanity, their dignity, and their equality. Black Canadians, particularly the indigenous blacks of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have too often received such cavalier consideration: the dilapidated housing, the Gothic crime rate, the incidence of suicidal drug addiction and the capitalism-indicting unemployment rate take prominent positions in well-meaning liberal-left studies, while the obsessively tended backyard garden, the unself-conscious charity of neighbours, the restorative passion for religion, and the non-recorded pursuit of self-employment...

    • Toward a Black Women’s Canadian History
      (pp. 315-318)

      The construction of race relations in Canada has been subject to one overriding imperative: the need to demarcate, favourably, the Canadian record from that of the United States. This prerequisite has even tinctured African-Canadian assessments of black-white race relations in Canada. For instance, novelist Austin Clarke, while castigating ‘polite’ Canadian prejudice in his pamphletPublic Enemies: Police Violence and Black Youth(1992), feels compelled to contend that, despite the race-motivated riot of 4 May 1992, Toronto ‘is stillnorthof the border of America and of racism’ (18, his italics). Earlier African Canadians preached like views. InFolklore from Nova...

    • Love Which Is Insight
      (pp. 319-320)

      How can I read Dionne Brand’s eleventh book, her essay collection,Bread out of Stone, with academic objectivity? I’ve known my Trinidadian-Canadian ‘sister,’ this fierce writer, far too long – since 1978 – for that. Her voice – succinct, lyric–‘accented,’ love-and-anger-tincted – seeps too deeply inside the flesh to allow anyone the luxury of forgetfulness.

      Besides, these thirteen essays, subtitled ‘recollections sex / recognitions race / dreaming politics,’ testify to the bitter gender, racial, and political battles in which she has engaged since the 1960s. A black, lesbian, immigrant, filmmaker, university lecturer, writer, and 1990 nominee for the Governor...

    • The Outraged Citizen-Poet Speaks Out
      (pp. 321-322)

      People of African heritage have borne witness to the truth of their oppression, or their pain, or their angst, in European-controlled polities ever since the first slaves landed in the Americas. Hence, New World Africans laud heroic intellectuals such as philosopher Angela Davis, sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, historian C.L.R. James, and psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon. Clearly, too, African-American leaders consist now of not only classical religious politicos like Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, but also of such public intellectuals as Cornel West and bell hooks (sic). In English Canada, a corps of black intellectuals has emerged, featuring journalists Cecil Foster and...


    • A Primer of African-Canadian Literature
      (pp. 325-338)

      Memorializing his sojourns in the Grand Republic, Matthew Arnold, in his article ‘General Grant’ (1887), maligns the Yankee desire to craft an indigenous literature: ‘… we have “the American Walter Scott,” “the American Wordsworth”; nay, I see advertisedThe Primer of American Literature. Imagine the face of Philip or Alexander at hearing of a Primer of Macedonian Literature!’ (177) Nettled by this seeming provincialism, Arnold wonders, ‘Are we to have a Primer of Canadian Literature too, and a Primer of Australian?’ (177) For thisecht-Victorian arbiter of taste, the offshoots of Britain were ‘contributories to one great literature – English...

    • Africana Canadiana: A Select Bibliography of Literature by African-Canadian Authors, 1785–2001, in English, French, and Translation
      (pp. 339-448)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 449-476)
  10. Index
    (pp. 477-491)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 492-492)