Saturday, February 28, 2015

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "The History of Urban Fiction" by Stacey Marie Robinson

The term “urban” exists with some underlying controversy, at times. When using it, one must have full recognition of its geographical, cultural, and racial significance. So taking the task of classifying—and even claiming—an entire genre of fiction is also a challenge in itself. While “Urban Fiction” exists and has been used as a classification of Canadian literature in various circumstances, it is the goal of Kya Publishing to highlight “Canadian Urban Fiction” as a culturally specific style of writing and content that reflects not only a genre of fiction, but also a sub-culture of readers and writers.
The definition of urban that I am working with is a positive one, although some believe it to have negative connotations as a code word of sorts to “mask” discussion of Black culture. Rooted in its literal meaning being “of the city,” I believe urban (in terms of fiction) is reflective of a style of culture: music, clothing, attitude, and a mentality of the streets … be they hard impoverished streets, or the trendy city streets of a bustling metropolis. The commonality being its link to urban popular culture, its ideologies, codes of conduct, values . . .and yes, more often than not it is a reflection of Black/African-American/Caribbean-Canadian culture. Given the demographics of Toronto and our diverse living proximity and sharing of cultural activities, we can also throw a variety of other cultures into the mix of what makes Canada “urban.”
Now, this may not be the same for our counterparts south of the border. Just as their culture is unique, so is the way they present it, and celebrate it. So while Urban Fiction in American may be more on the “street” side than the “Caribbean culture” side … it is still rooted in the need to depict a particular community authentically, and keep the writing and the characters true to their origin.
In the Canadian context, Canadian Urban Fiction is just as relatively new as urban culture. Just like music, clothing lines, and radio licensing, we have witnessed the emergence of a lucrative and internationally powerful recognition of our status. Add a successful basketball team, chart-topping recording artists, successful choreographers and videographers, and there’s an industry that has been steadily on the rise for the past 20 years, and quickly reaching domination in various categories.
Black- African- and Caribbean-Canadian writers have been winning awards, topping bestseller lists, and making noise in the Canadian literary scene for decades. Greats like Dionne Brand, Lawrence Hill, and Austin Clarke have cemented their place as voices and historians of the Black Canadian culture through their words, storytelling, and artistic talents. To define their writing by race alone would be an injustice to the universal nature of their stories their words, and craftsmanship.
In the emergence of Canadian Urban Fiction, I would not classify the works of a[a1]  ‘George Elliott Clarke’, of an ‘Afua Cooper’, or of a ‘Rosemary Sadlier’ as “urban” or of that genre. I believe their legacy is that of an inaugural nature, and of foundation. It is beyond classification, by these narrow confines.
It is the generation just following these legends that were raised by the “urban culture” of the nineties and beyond, that Kya Publishing is capturing almost specifically: the generation that birthed the term urban, and was exposed to the emergence of the “BET (Black Entertainment Television)” culture, the change and monetizing of hip-hop culture, and the diversification of its racial impact.
I cannot personally speak for the American tone, or the British tone to urban writing, but I will claim that the Canadian tone is infused with an American influence, Caribbean and African presence, and a multicultural awareness that only Toronto/Canada can bring. It is less gangster, more cultural; less street, and more city; less explicit, and more authentic. I will claim the Canadian interpretation of Urban Fiction to be gritty, real, raw, and a familiar interpretation of our various ethnicities and cultural values.
As a publisher, I strive to be a communicator and supporter of urban literary content, through ensuring that we as writers are all like-minded in our descriptions and creations of the urban Toronto/Canadian caricatures that will stand the test of literary time and permanency.
Historically, Urban Fiction has been popular with teens and twenty-somethings, as a gritty introduction to literature and real life experience, much like youth-focused television programming, music, and magazines. It made the reading experience so personal, that the very life they were living, music they were listening to, clothing, and speech patterns they were familiar with, found themselves into literature.
Not unlike most books, the experiences reflect reality. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of Robert Beck aka Iceberg Slim, that the realities of the “streets” and the urban underworld of sorts, were celebrated in literature. This manifested as urban pulp fiction in the 1970s, and while widely circulated, it is difficult to find professional reviews of this content and its originators.
Other literature of the time by African-American authors focused more on culture, racism, slavery, and striving for equality…featured autobiographies, and less about drugs, gangs, and street as the urban pulp fiction was highlighting.
Writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T Washington, and Frederick Douglass spoke to the meaning of the Black American presence, and issues of people of African descent living in the U.S. Political in nature, and rooted in change and awareness, there was another movement of writing in the 70s that was more mainstream than the gritty street literature of the inaugural Urban Fiction writers.
This was not the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-1940s … this was a different tone altogether, with a high appeal to otherwise reluctant readers. These books were defined by socio-economic realities, and very culturally specific. Neighbourhood specific. This was not speaking about the plights of African-Americans everywhere … this was talking about the life of a particular ‘hood at a particular time. This was refuting the dominant, intellectual literature culture. This was Urban Fiction, and it began to stand as a genre on its own.
There was no mainstream acceptance, and arguably still isn’t. Urban Fiction authors became accustomed to self-publishing their words, and independently marketing their efforts.
While the 1990s did see a surge in popularity with writers like Omar Tyree, Terry McMillan, and the likes … their books soon transcended the urban framework, and became staples of African-American literature, much like their predecessors.
Today’s Urban Fiction authors came up with a different hustle to the game--an urgency to publish these tales by-any-means-necessary to keep the texts current, and frequent. In their own communities, Urban Fiction writers and publishers have built and sustained a thriving industry of hundreds of novels, authors, and its own infrastructure.
Through the Journal of Canadian Urban Fiction[a2] , we will continue to explore this genre of writing, the historical and future impact, and the writers that are dedicated to its growth.

Stacey Marie Robinson is the founder of Kya Publishing, a writer, and communications specialist. Contact Stacey at:

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "The 1990s: The Golden Era of Urban Fiction" by Kamilah Haywood

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?  Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet.” -- Tupac Shakur
It’s funny how time has flown by, but the issues in the urban community seem to remain the same. The 1990’s—that some refer to as the “Golden Era” of hip-hop—was the birth of an era of truth --a forbidden truth.  A truth that you could smell, taste, touch and see if you lived it but, if you were not from that truth … you had no way of understanding what was happening. It was inevitable for storytellers to emerge and speak this truth to reach the masses. They rose from the concrete, so to speak, with talents and stories to express truth and wisdom, from a place greater than their own. It did not matter what form that truthful message was released in, or the method that was used to reach the masses—the darkness of that truth had to eventually come to light. 
The global oppression that some black people were experiencing created a shift in enlightenment.  The late 1970’s and early 1980’s birthed hip-hop, a unique form of expression that emerged from oppressive low income communities that many blacks resided in.
There are five components of hip-hop: 1) B-Boying, 2) MC-ing, 3) Graffiti, 4) DJ-ing, and 5) Knowledge, Culture and Overstanding (as defined by the Zulu Nation). The 1990’s continued to shape and mould the art form of hip-hop through MC’s like Tupac Shakur, with his album “Me Against the World” to Mobb Deep’s album “The Infamous” to Nas’s album “Illmatic” to name a few classics. These and many other hip-hop MC’s were able to craft lyrics/poetry about their experiences growing up in the “concrete jungles” and it was a form of storytelling that exposed their living conditions, in poverty.  Hip-hop gave many black people in these circumstances a voice, when the rest of the world was not trying to hear what they had to say.  The physical shackles had been removed, but the mental prison was now on the mind and still is today for many, who continue to live in these conditions.
These oppressive conditions isolated some black people from the norms like others in society. This oppression whether evident (in the physical) or not, marginalized some black people, and continued to try and hide the oppressive truth.
The creativity of hip-hop also began to inspire other talents in other creative forms used to express the oppression and tell the stories that was being pushed under the rug … and still is today, to some extent.  Urban Fiction was one of those forms of expression that emerged first in the 1970’s, with a graphic tale from Iceberg Slim’s story, Pimp.  A new type of literary fiction had emerged and the stories continued to surface in the 1990’s.
Hip-hop music was graphically telling stories of the lost children in the streets on records, while Urban Fiction authors were creating characters and plots, and also unraveling graphic stories of what was happening in these oppressive low income communities.  It was very difficult to bring this type of manuscript to corporate America/Canada to get published, and it still isn’t any easier today … but the story, regardless, will and has to be told. 
Author’s like Sista Souljah, Omar Tyree, and Teri Woods went against the odds and created novels that will always be used as references to the Urban Fiction reading community. The Coldest Winter Ever, Flyy Girl, and True to the Game are ground breaking novels that exposed the stories that were situated in these oppressive black communities. These three authors had the hustle, ambition, and talent to fight for a place in the literary world whether accepted or not. They clearly exposed that black people have a story to tell to the world—and the literary world—no matter how they try to hide that truth. 
Activist Sista Souljah is a true revolutionary Urban Fiction author of our time.  Her writing career began first as a featured rapper debuting on Public Enemy albums in the early 1990’s, and she eventually released her own album “360 degrees of Power.”  Her music videos were banned by MTV because of the “black power” messages she was portraying in her work. In 1992 when the Los Angeles riots occurred, she made a comment that is still talked about today when racial/political debates surface.  Sista Souljah said “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week that we kill all white people?”  Her message spoke loud and clear; she was and is for the voices of black people ‘by any means necessary’, and her work continued to portray that. Sista Souljah realized that some oppressed black people needed a voice. In 1999 her debut Urban Fiction novel, “The Coldest Winter Ever”,  sent chills down the spines of readers everywhere, with her raw and explicit tale about the life of Winter Santiaga’s story in the streets.  If you were not from Brooklyn, New York, you immediately felt like you were walking through the toughest parts of the neighbourhood, watching this young girl’s story unfold.
The door had been opened and the gateway to the enlightenment of Urban Fiction storytelling had begun.  Sista Souljah, Omar Tyree, Terry McMillian, and Teri Woods all proved that Urban Fiction was a new literary genre and a force to be reckoned with. These best-selling novelists proved that no matter how many doors the corporate world closes in your face, if you keep fighting, hustling and working, the path of truth will shape itself while appearing right in front of you. The economic corporate agenda in our society today—or yesterday—has nothing to do with the creative talents of individuals in our world, no matter how these agendas may try to keep them oppressed and without a voice. The story will always be told and these stories will always crack through the concrete with lights to shine in the dark places they’ve been silenced to live in.
“Darkness cannot drive darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive hate, only love can do that.”  ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Kamilah Haywood’s Urban Fiction novel “Concrete Jungle” is available at; she can be reached at

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "The 'British Perspective' on Urban Fiction" by Sam Hunter

A door opened to her right.  A shaft of light sliced into the darkness. The shadows behind the glass moved rapidly.  A wave of fear gripped Nia as she saw the deep black silhouette of a handgun appear in the doorway.  Time stood still for Nia as she realized the aim of the handgun had fixed itself firmly on her. “Are you afraid to die?  Or do you wanna live forever?”
The deep guttural voice filled the room briefly and then faded into nothingness as if the walls of the room had completely absorbed it.
Her heart was beating so hard it was the only other sound she could hear in the room.  She felt it beating so fast her chest could barely contain it and she couldn’t swallow.  Before she had time to react she saw the white hot muzzle flash and retort of the weapon as it fired.
It’s no coincidence there’s a line from Tupac’s ‘Only Fear of Death’ in the opening chapter of my novel ‘Book One’.  In fact, the pages are littered with them.  Because in my mind, hip-hop is the soundtrack to Urban Fiction and Tupac is the figurehead of hip-hop.
For as long as I can remember, I was trying to find the right story to tell.  I’d write a few pages and nothing seemed to click.  But back then I’d yet to fall in love with hip-hop. That didn’t happen until I was studying American history at university.
Studying Malcom X, the Civil Rights struggle, and the Black Panther Party laid the foundations.  I remember not being able to stop reading ‘Malcom X’ by Alex Haley.  I sat and devoured the book over several shifts at my part-time job. And then something about a Tupac lyric on the track ‘Pain’ just had me focused on hip-hop. There was no turning back. I went on to complete a research master’s degree in hip-hop history.
You could say that ‘Book One’ was the culmination of my studies. Not long after I finished studying, I was struck by an idea to bring it all together.  I had a flash of inspiration and discovered a passion for this story that would enable me to follow it all the way through to publication.  From that moment it was on.
They say write what you know. For most people that’s their experiences, set in their surroundings. For me it was different; you won’t find any Britishness in my work. I listen to U.S. hip-hop and enjoy the old school graffiti masters of the New York subway. What I know is hip-hop and how Black Power bled right through into the hip-hop generation. I took that, threw in some conspiracy, the sexy heat of Miami, and turned out a book that will get every hop-hop fan thinking ‘what if?’
I’ve written some other novellas, they’re still part of the ‘Makaveli’s Prince’ series, but they’ve been a break, a chance for me to get things together for ‘Book Two’. I’ve been exploring the genre a little further with characters and storylines which branch away from my central focus on historical conspiracy.
I can’t speak on the Urban Fiction scene in Britain because I’ve always had a solitary creative process.  When I do link up with other authors and readers it’s always been online and there, the U.S. contingent dominates.
What I do know is the internet has been great for putting me in touch with my readers around the world.  Hearing from them has been the best experience I’ve had as a writer. And I’m sure it’s going to stay that way.

Sam Hunter is the author of the “Makaveli’s Prince” book series. Connect with him on Twitter @_SamHunter. 

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "Black Canadian Children's Authors" by Nadia Hohn

Though statistics indicate only 2% books published in the United States in 2013 were about Black children, there are still writers who are writing about our experiences.  The numbers in Canada are a lot less with many writers of African descent going the self-published route.  Here are some examples of great Canadian books in all of the genres for children and young adults: 

1) Angelot Ndongmo - Loving Me and Boy, I Am Loving Me
2) Shauntay Grant - Up Home
3) Jody Nyasha Warner - Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged"
4) Rosemary Sadlier - The Kids Book of Black Canadian History
5) Nadine Chevolleau - Stop Kissing Me, Mommy!
6) Janet Campbell - Purpose Finds His Gift
7) Angela Walcott - I Want To Be
8) Simone Da Costa - Emily-Rose's Day at the Farm
9) Dirk McLean - Play Mas'! A Carnival ABC and Curtain Up: A Book for Young Performers
10) Adwoa Badoe - Anansi's Pot of Wisdom and Nana's Cold Days

Early years (0-5 years old)
From their skin to their hair to their smile, Brampton-based author Angelot Ndongmo helps young readers to appreciate themselves with the series Loving Me.  Through clever rhymes, Angelot celebrates the wonderful things about being a little girl in Loving Me which is self-published.  Angelot received a great response from parents and kids. When the author was asked if she could make one just for boys, she wrote Boy! I Am Loving Me!

In Up Home, Nova Scotia-born poet Shauntay Grant remembers her summers visiting North Preston, Nova Scotia. Vivid images of picking blueberries, going to church, and being with her cousins and grandparents make you feel like you are almost there.

Advanced Picture Book (6-9 years old)
Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner is based on a true-life civil rights hero from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It is 1946.  When Viola Desmond decides to go to the movies in New Glasgow, after her car breaks down and has to be fixed overnight, she is faced with the segregation law that whites and blacks could not sit together, even though she already paid for her ticket.  The next series of events change history with Viola at the centre.

Middle Grade Novel (9-12 years old)
Christopher Paul Curtis tells the story of Elijah who is the first child in his family to be born free in Buxton, Ontario.  When a thief steals his friend’s money, money to buy a family’s freedom from slavery in the southern United States, Elijah is in hot pursuit on a dangerous journey. But will he ever get back home? 

Young Adult Novel (12-16 years old)
Set in Toronto, Harriet’s Daughter by Marlene Nourbese Philip is the story of friends.  Margaret is born in Canada of Barbadian parents.  Her new best friend Zulma has arrived from Tobago and misses her homeland.  Can a Margaret’s game of the Underground Railroad, where she is the conductor Harriet, get Zulma any closer?

Nadia Hohn is a Canadian children’s author and educator; she can be reached at

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "NAACP Image Awards Maintain Standard of Excellence in Literature" by Gwen Richardson

African-American authors rarely receive national recognition for their work. There are a few, like novelists Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley, whose profiles have been raised due to movie adaptations. And a few others, like NY Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, who achieve national breakthroughs for historical or non-fiction work. But the most consistent, high-profile, annual recognition bestowed upon Black authors are the NAACP Image Awards nominations for outstanding literary work.
I was fortunate to receive one such nomination this year for my recently released book, 101 Scholarship Applications: What It Takes to Obtain a Debt-Free College Education. This was not only my fifth published book, but it was a book that I originally had not intended to write. Its publication resulted from two years of research I conducted to ensure that our daughter, who is now a freshman at North Carolina Central University, had no college loan debt upon graduation.  After receiving numerous inquiries from other parents, I felt the most efficient way to distribute the information was by compiling it in a book.
In September of last year, I received an email from the Image Awards announcing that the nomination process for the literary awards had begun. As co-founder and national coordinator of the National Black Book Festival, I often receive these types of notifications, which I distribute to authors within our network. As I scanned the list of categories, I noticed one titled “Instructional,” and I decided to submit my book, which was released later that month.
The Awards Committee requires applicants to submit 15 copies of their books for review, plus a processing fee of $215.00.  The competition was tremendous, and there was no guarantee of success. Since my books are self-published, the fee and the cost of printing the books was an additional personal expense, but I decided to take a chance.
As it turned out, it was the best $215.00 I’ve ever spent in terms of a return on my investment. When the nominations were announced in December, my book was among them. The NAACP Image Awards provides tickets to the festivities for all nominees and a guest, but they do not cover travel expenses. However, I viewed the nomination as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and decided to make the trip to Los Angeles for the two-day affair on Feb. 5 and 6.
The event did not disappoint and was well beyond my expectations. Nominees were treated like winners throughout the Image Awards, receiving free access to the women’s brunch, two red carpet opportunities, non-televised awards on Thursday evening, televised awards on Friday, and the after party featuring Chaka Khan as the musical performer.
The menus were first class with open bars throughout both days.  The nominees hobnobbed with television and movie celebrities, who were, for the most part, accessible and friendly. Photographers from national and international publications took red-carpet photos of all nominees who attended.
The literary awards were announced on Thursday evening and there were eight categories: Fiction, non-fiction, instructional, children’s, debut author, young adult/teens, biography, and poetry.  To my surprise, there were only a few of the literary nominees in attendance, but the excitement was electric. Those who won (I was not among them) graced the stage with heartfelt acceptance speeches.
Although the Image Awards celebrated its 46th anniversary this year, the literary honors were first launched 22 years ago in 1993, with only one category for outstanding literary work.  Their expansion to eight separate categories, with five nominees for each, represents an opportunity for authors to receive honors for something many would do for free. Indeed, most writers pursue their craft for years without compensation. Writing is a passion which compels them, in hopes that the end users will either be entertained or informed.
If not for the efforts of the NAACP Image Awards, African American authors would have few opportunities to receive national recognition for their literary works. With the thousands of books now published by Black authors every year, the Image Awards play a major role in maintaining the standards of excellence in African-American literature.

Gwen Richardson is a Houston-based entrepreneur and author. Information about the author and her books can be found at: 

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "The Harlem Renaissance" by Njoroge Mungai

The Renaissance in Harlem like all significant movements reflects a spiritual migration. During the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, former sharecroppers and farmers abandoned Southern towns and their history of bondage for Northern cities promising an absolution from involuntary servitude. Artists during this movement continue to inspire creatives seeking to master the science of truthful expression.
Each participant in the Renaissance in Harlem resembles an atom, restructuring reality and the laws governing the physics of creativity, being that, voice inflections, choreography, brush strokes, composition, stage directions, and the written word are inextricably linked not only to the chorus of expression, but also to individual imagination.
This dialectical relationship is a rhetorical rendering that struggles to emancipate art from the shackles of caricature. Writers such as Langston Hughes comment on the struggle that confront creatives as he posits that:
The (Negro) artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from his own group and unintentional bribes (from the whites). "Oh, be respectable, write about nice people, show how good we are," (say the Negroes). "Be stereotyped, don't go too far, don't shatter our illusions about you, don't amuse us too seriously. We will pay you," (say the whites).
Issues of identity are fraught with conflict. Artists struggle to produce work that is definitive of their talent in an environment that is resistant to autonomy. Independence and cultural differences are celebrated yet the causes of exclusion are not interrogated. This occurs even within groups championing multiculturalism. George Elliot Clarke observes that this may occur “Because they were interested in identifying with a kind of ethnic--celebrating ethnic difference, but not examining the question of racism. Not at all. That was too disruptive too, it would get into questions of class, privilege, etc. etc. and the people we were associating with who were part of that movement back then did not want any part of that. What they wanted us to do was come and sing our spirituals, but don't talk about racism, don't talk about employment equity and don't talk about anything that is going to upset other people who are part of this "coalition."
Choreography transforms unpredictable motions into precise movement that create order out of chaos. It celebrates continuity and harmonizes the struggles and triumphs that accompany our lives. Pearl Primus, an influential creative during the Renaissance in Harlem captures the fluidity of movement within African traditions. She recognizes that these rhythmic undulations ripple into other communities. In doing so, she eclipses the restrictions of her aesthetic and transforms dance into a weapon wielded against exclusion. In her words:

... Dance is ... the scream which eases for a while the terrible frustration of all human beings who because of race, creed, or colour are “invisible’. Dance is the fist with which I fight the sickening ignorance of prejudice. 

The tide of exclusion continues to recede yet Misty Copeland, the first and only African American female soloist for the American Ballet Theatre notes that restrictions to access still linger. Although indebted to figures like Peal, she acknowledges that exclusion is a result of:

... racism and not wanting to change this very traditional art form that has been successful in the way it is for so long.

The Renaissance in Harlem reminds us that creativity eclipses the confines of time and space. It leaps above exclusion and defies convention. As conscientious curators, we hold the gifts that this period bestowed on us so that future generations will be inspired to contribute their unique voices to the ongoing narrative of creative expression.

Contact Njoroge Mungai

JCUF VOL 2 NO 1 (2015) - "Book Review: Under My Skin by Orville Lloyd Douglas" by Stacey Marie Robinson

I was uncomfortable reading Under My Skin by Orville Lloyd Douglas. Published in May 2014 by Guernica Editions, this book of poetry is a brash and bold interpretation of Douglas’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions in regards to life. Life as Black man. Life as a Homosexual man. Life as a Canadian man. Life as a Thinking man. Life as an Educated man. His life, his ideals, and his creative constructions, through his words and poetic license.
                I was uncomfortable, because I came into reading this project with a pre-conception of Mr. Douglas, based on a CNN appearance I remembered of him being interviewed in November of 2013 with journalist Don Lemon. At that time, he was defending his article “Why I Hate Being a Black Man” and the conversation was shocking to me, because I had yet to hear a black Canadian man speak so honestly about his insecurities on an international platform.
At the time, Douglas mentioned that racism was handled carefully in Canada. He was speaking about an experience, an environment, and from a lens that I was supposed to be familiar with. He came from Jamaican parentage … so did I. He was university-educated, and a critical thinker … as was I.
So coming into this collection of poetry knowing that on some level I had a shared cultural and community background as Douglas, I was still very uncomfortable reading his personal perspectives and phrases. Particularly because he was introducing a lifestyle and set of thoughts that were so foreign to me—or anyone I was in close communication with—that it took me a minute to adjust to his musings.
I was uncomfortable, because I realized … perhaps this is what others may think of “Urban” writing to some extent. They may be so unfamiliar with some of its elements and realities, that it might be offensive. Disturbing. Unrealistic. Unsettling.
Douglas has been known to explore issues of homosexuality in his writing, particularly in the black community.  His sentiments in the “Why I Hate Being A Black Man” article are elaborated on in this book of poetry, as you can see that he truly feels that black men are subjected to a life of misery and shame, often faced with self-hatred, and unfairly stereotyped.
Douglas does not like rap music, nor sports. He expressed that his dark skin, broad nose, and thick lips were his “personal prison”…and while the article is not directly related to the book, I found that the ideals were definitely confirmed through his poetry.
In the section ILLUSIONS OF CANADA, Douglas reflects on the destruction of Africville in Halifax; the treatment of black hockey players in Alberta, and growing up in a home filled with immigrant dreams. He expresses his experiences having his black authenticity questioned, his “Jamaican-ness” questioned, and the acceptance of his fellow brothers. He states: “My nigga, why do you care? You going to lecture me?” in words that clearly show that his acceptance came more from his white counterparts in the city, than those he shared racial and cultural similarities with.
Continuing to discuss his country, he compares the CN Tower to the black penis, calling it an “exotic jungle” and relishing in its novelty to some … behind closed doors. Douglas has no modesty in his thoughts, when he declares that “Canada is Shit,” expressing his aggravation with the police, and venting on the perceived brainwashing, false praises of diversity and acceptance, and admits that he refuses to pledge allegiance to a White Queen, a White Mayor, and the Chief of Police/Hypocrisy. Again, Douglas is honest and upfront with his feelings not only about race, but about his patriotism as well.
Again, discomfort because although many may share these sentiments about the Queen and Police Chief, few will openly speak, print, or publish these thoughts.
In the segment called THE GOSPELS, Douglas goes into his past as a choir boy, expressing “terror behind the oak doors,” and a Christian upbringing. Issues of self-hatred, and physical cutting are mentioned … being educated with no access, and contemplations of suicide. There is a sense of hopelessness, and as each poem unfolds, the levels of frustration become more evident, and the root of the pain is clearly outlined.
A part of this pain is in the form of a love affair that didn’t have a favourable end result. While one can assume these are personal stories of Douglas’, they surely also account for situations and difficulties expressed by others. In descriptions of “Vikas” there is a pain and heartbreak of a difficult relationship, that never had the opportunity to flourish as expected.
With Vick, he describes an exotic mixing of cultures, between the East and West Indies, a combination of religious expectations, and an erotic encountering between secret lovers. You can feel the longing for the relationship with Vick, and there are series of sexual descriptions of rough African encounters, wet dreams, and physical conquering. A heartbreaking tale … while the narrator is comfortable expressing his homosexuality, Vick, unfortunately, is not, and moves
The themes of patriotic disappointment, unacceptance from the black community, romantic longing, and religious disappointment (I would not even feel appropriate repeating the sexual acts that were related to Jesus in poetry…I can’t do it!) were consistent in this book, as it painted a picture of a frustrated young man with extreme awareness of his surroundings, of irritated perceptions of his reality, and of a fierce bravery and boldness in the reporting of events, whether fictional or actual.
So yes, I was uncomfortable. Extremely. But I have to commend Douglas for speaking his truth with such conviction. There was no fear in these words. No holds barred. No apologies. No ambiguity. He stood firm in his truth, and communicated his realities as such. He used language and emotion, and put together a collection of poetry that spoke so specifically to his experience, and most likely will speak directly to a demographic of urban Canadians who are encountering, have encountered, or will encounter similar ideals, discriminations, or hopes.
I realize I cannot pass judgement on another writer for speaking their version of reality, and the uncomfortableness experienced with my Jamaican-Canadian brother, is probably for my own good and enlightenment.
Not everyone is going to share respect for the Queen, successful open heterosexual relationships, and love for the police. Not everyone is going to accept the structures of culture and society around them. This is apparent … yet sometimes forgotten. I shouldn’t be uncomfortable reading a man’s story (especially since he is not the only man with these thoughts), which means that I am not exposed to enough of these thoughts. This perspective has been hidden from common public discourse, and the realities of Douglas’ chosen lifestyle, has not yet been normalized enough.
I commend Douglas for standing in his truth, and for Guernica Editions for publishing this truth. It may be uncomfortable for me, but ground breaking and cathartic for another reader. It will be inspirational to many, and revolutionary to others. It will be eye-opening to most, offensive to some, but is a step in the right direction of celebrating various experiences, and including all voices and perspectives in the dominant cultural conversation. Even if it initially makes us uncomfortable to digest … it won’t forever. It shouldn’t for long.