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Five Canadian must-reads for Black History Month and beyond

By Lalaa Comrie

As Black History month in Canada comes to a close, there’s still so much to learn and more conversations that must continue to happen. Sometimes the best way to understand the world around us is to stop and pick up a book. That’s certainly true during Black History Month and beyond. 

Oftentimes in Canada, we find ourselves reading and popularizing the experiences of our American neighbours, but the truth is, Canada has a rich and deep history of Black culture and life. From our fight for freedom, slavery, oppression, success, and excellence, Black authors have been publishing a number of books that are shaping our conversations about race, community, and culture and expanding our thinking. 

In celebration of Black History Month, here are five books that highlight the unique voice of the Black experience in Canada. 

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill – https://amzn.to/3t1DYAr 

There’s no other way to describe this book other than to say, it is a masterpiece. 

Abducted as a child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea, Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War, registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes” and eventually traveling back to Africa.

A sweeping story that transports the reader from a tribal African village to a plantation in the southern United States, from the teeming Halifax docks to the manor houses of London, The Book of Negroes introduces one of the strongest female characters in Canadian fiction, one who cuts a swath through a world hostile to her colour and her sex. 

The book has now been turned into a six-part mini-series that cuts as deep as the book.

Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard – https://amzn.to/3BKUlFp

If I had to choose one book that I think all Canadians should read it would be this one. This book traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms, and beyond. Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of nearly 400 years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization, and punishment of Black lives in Canada. She goes deep with research, evidence, and tons of narrative that adds so much colour and emotion to her words.

Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery across multiple institutions, shedding light on the state’s role in perpetuating contemporary Black poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, law enforcement violence, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, exploitative migrant labour practices, disproportionate child removal, and low graduation rates. For me, it serves as a call to action for us to dismantle the systems that oppress Black people in Canada. 

The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole – https://amzn.to/3HaoIpX 

 It is not an exaggeration to say that Desmond Cole’s book should be taught in classrooms. It’s a striking, searing, perspective-shifting book that draws attention to the injustices faced by Black Canadians on a daily basis. Cole chronicles the collective community struggle in Canada regarding race, over the course of a single year – 2017 – with each month contributing to a comprehensively stark picture of the Black experience in Canada.

 Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi – https://amzn.to/36B7qWw 

In Butter Honey Pig Bread we see how one simple truth can separate a family. At its core, it’s a story of twin sisters whose bond is deep and whose pain separates them both physically and emotionally. But truly it is a story of women who are hungry for connection and hungry for healing. 

The book tells the story of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Taking place in Nigeria, Canada, and Europe the book spans oceans and speaks to the power of love, bonds, and family ties. 

We also follow the twins who have a deep spiritual connection but are separated from each other by a childhood trauma that tore them apart. The truth and pain of the trauma send them in different directions, living two separate and very different lives in separate parts of the world. 

Taiye who is plagued with guilt is unable to keep a relationship and has casual flings with women all over.  Kehinde, the other twin,  left Lagos and never looked back, fleeing the haunting memories of the ‘Bad Thing’ that happened to her. Cutting herself off from her past, and sadly her twin she builds a new life and buries her pain.

At a crossroads, both girls end up going back to Lagos to visit their mom for the first time in years, where the three women begin to unravel some of the trauma that has plagued their lives.  

The book is a beautiful exploration of Nigerian culture and traditions, queer culture, family relationships and bonds, and the pain of sexual trauma. 

AfriCANthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets edited by Gregory Frankson – https://amzn.to/36tzoDr 

This collection assembles some of Canada’s best Black writers and poets in one hard-hitting and powerful anthology. From Dwayne Morgan, Afua Cooper, Andrea Thompson, George Elliott Clarke and so many more this collection focuses on the experience and the personal journey of each writer. 

Just as individual experiences of Blackness are diverse across Canada, each contributor recounts aspects of navigating their unique personal, professional, and artistic paths in Black skin with fearless candour and audacious forthrightness. Unforgettable, relatable and so profound; each piece touched a different part of my being while I read. 

These are only a few of the books you can read to diversify your booklist during Black History Month and beyond. One month can never be enough to explore and celebrate all the achievements and contributions of Black people in Canada. What book are you adding to your list? Let us know in the comments. 

Lalaa Comrie is an award-winning writer, literacy advocate, book blogger, and host of the Getting Lit Podcast, a podcast dedicated to reviews and recommendations for diverse reads coming out for the month. Her work has been highlighted by Toronto Life Magazine and she has worked with Twitter Canada, Books for Africa, Canada Reads, and Tech Spark Canada. Lalaa  works at the York Region Arts Council helping to promote local arts and culture and also shares ways to #DiversifyYourBookshelf on her blog thisblackgirlreads.ca

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