Black History Month at VIRL
Celebrate Black History Month at VIRL with these online and print resources and entertainment! We’ve curated a whole variety of materials in different formats for reading, listening, watching, and learning. Whether you’re looking for ebooks and digital audiobooks by Black Canadian women, authoritative websites about the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada, great fiction by Black Canadian authors, streaming videos about Black history in BC, Canadian resources about racial justice and anti-Black racism, we’ve got something for you! Check back in the coming weeks for even more content.
Online Resources Including Ebooks, Digital Audiobooks, Streaming Video, and Web Resources for Black History Month at VIRL
Nonfiction books, journalism, and films written and directed by Black Canadian women
READ: The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal by Afua Cooper
LISTEN: Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight
WATCH: Farewell Regent directed by Christene A Browne
LEARN: Journalist Amanda Parris’s Black Light column for CBC
Resources on Black Lives Matter in Canada
READ: Until We Are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter Canada by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware
LISTEN: Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard
WATCH: The Skin We’re In Documentary featuring Desmond Cole and directed by Charles Officer
LEARN: Black Lives Matter Canada Website
Resources on Local Black History
READ: Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia by Crawford Kilian
LISTEN: Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria
WATCH: Secret Victoria: Rush to Freedom directed by Melinda Friedman
LEARN: Digital Museum for British Columbia’s Black Pioneers
LEARN: The Hidden History of African American Settlers in Wellington, BC
Great Fiction by Black Canadian Authors (Download a PDF version of this booklist here)
The Night Piece by André Alexis
This collection of short stories spans the career of multiple award winning author André Alexis, best known for the Giller Prize winning novel Fifteen Dogs. Many of the stories are set in Ottawa or Toronto, and they incorporate sly humour even while they address profound topics.
Have You Met Nora? By Nora Blades
Montreal writer Nicole Blades tackles issues of race and belonging in this novel about a young biracial woman passing for white. Nora is about to marry her wealthy fiancé, but he doesn’t know she’s mixed race. When a betrayed ex-classmate turns up in her life, Nora’s lies threaten to come tumbling down.
Theory By Dionne Brand
Former Poet Laureate of Toronto’s latest novel is about an unnamed academic as they chronicle their life’s love affairs. These relationships both interrupt and fuel their decade-long dissertation project. This is pure character study of an amusing and unreliable narrator.
Brother By David Chariandy
This quietly powerful lyrical novel is an elegy from one brother to another in a Trinidadian Canadian family. Francis hopes to make a career in music. Michael focuses his attention on the smartest girl in school. Police violence tears their family apart.
Washington Black By Esi Edugyan
This sweeping historical epic follows a young boy named Washington Black. Enslaved on a Barbados plantation, he is chosen to be a servant to his master’s brother—eccentric inventor and abolitionist. They subsequently travel around the world as Wash learns how to live a life of dignity.
The Alchemists of Kush By Minister Faust
Deemed a “hip hop epic,” this speculative story is steeped in Egyptian mythology, with one of two parallel stories—7000 years apart—set in Edmonton. Two young men, Hru and Raphael, get taken under the spiritual wing of a mentor who helps them find their own strength.
Butter Honey Pig Bread By Francesca Ekwuyasi
This majestic debut novel spans three continents and three Nigerian women, a mother, Kambirinachi, and twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. Through a sometimes magical realist lens, Ekwuyasi investigates trauma, being an artist, sister relationships, queerness, cooking, motherhood, non-human spirits, and healing.
Independence By Cecil Foster
14-year-old friends Christopher and Stephanie are coming of age in Barbados just as it achieves independence. Both their mothers have left for better economic opportunities, but a rift grows between them when a Canadian benefactor returns to lavish gifts on Stephanie.
Sister Mine By Nalo Hopkinson
Hopkinson’s wonderfully imaginative Afro-Caribbean urban fantasy is set in Toronto. It features sisters—one magical, one not—who were formally conjoined twins, demi-gods, a human who used to be Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, and more!
The Return By Dany Laferrière
Translated from the original French, this Prix Médicis winner begins in mid 1970s Montreal. The protagonist has left Port-au-Prince in the wake of the murder of one of his journalist colleagues. Decades later, he learns of his father’s death and decides to return to Haiti. But how does one return from exile?
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall By Suzette Mayr
Edith Vane’s tenured professor job is supposed to be safe, but the new dean is evil, her colleague has gone missing, and her building has developed sentience and is trying to kill everyone. A satire on the horrors of academia, especially for women of colour.
Shut Up You’re Pretty By Téa Mutonji
This collection of short stories centres on a woman from the Congo, following her journey from girlhood to adulthood, including her family’s immigration to Canada. Themes include feminism, queerness, sex work, best friendship, depression, race, and more.
The Midnight Bargain By C.L. Polk
A Regency-era fantasy about sorceresses and magic, The Midnight Bargain follows the story of Beatrice, who wishes to practise magic but is supposed to focus on finding an advantageous marriage to pay off her family’s debt. Can she manage to achieve both ends, plus find love?
Frying Plantain By Zalika Reid-Benta
A debut collection of linked short stories about the main character Kara, Frying Plantain hones in on the feeling of being caught in the middle: Canadian vs Jamaican, bold vs soft, and loud vs quiet. The setting is a vivid Little Jamaica in Toronto.
Reproduction By Ian Williams
Williams’ Giller Prize award winning novel is set in a multi-linguistic and cultural neighbourhood in Toronto. Felicia and Edgar meet as their moms are in the hospital, and form a lifelong bond, although they don’t quite understand each other. Years later, their teenage son becomes fascinated with his absent father (and his money).
Great Books by African Authors (Download a PDF version of this booklist here)
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
In 1935, orphaned servant Hirut struggles to adapt to her new household as Ethiopia faces Mussolini’s looming invasion. As the battles begin in earnest, Hirut and other women must care for the wounded. But when Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia is about to lose hope, Hirut helps to disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor to keep the fight alive. She becomes his guard, inspiring women to join the war against fascism.
At Night All Blood is Black By David Diop
Diop’s harrowing, nimbly translated English-language debut takes the form of a 20-year-old Senegalese soldier’s confession of his experience fighting for the French in the trenches during WWI.
The Dragons, The Giant, The Women By Wayétu Moore
A memoir full of for suspense and emotional depth that spans Moore’s harrowing early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a Black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia. This is a deeply moving story of the search for home in the midst of upheaval.
The Death of Vivek Oji By Akwaeke Emezi
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew? One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. A story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious.
A Girl is a Body of Water By Jennifer Nansugbuga Makumbi
Set in 1970s Uganda, this bewitching coming-of-age novel introduces readers to a smart, feisty heroine, Kirabo Nnamiiro, and her complicated extended family. Though deeply loved by the grandparents who are raising her, Kirabo yearns for knowledge of the woman who abandoned her at birth.
Transcendent Kingdom By Yaa Gyasi
A novel about faith, science, religion, and family that tells the deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief, narrated by a fifth year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford school of medicine studying the neural circuits of reward seeking behavior in mice.
His Only Wife By Peace Adzo Medie
An intelligent and funny debut about a relatable, indomitable heroine: a young seamstress in Ghana who agrees to an arranged marriage, only to realize that some compromises are too extreme to accept, illuminating what it means to be a woman in a rapidly changing world .
In this collection of stories, Addis Ababa is a sprawling melting pot of cultures where rich and poor live side by side in relative harmony — until they don’t.
This Mournable Body By Tsitsi Dangarembga
Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare, then to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every attempt to make a life, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality drives her to a breaking point.
It’s 1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. An Old Drifter, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century.
My Sister, the Serial Killer By Oyinkan Braithwaite
Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends. Murders litter the novel, but it is less about crime than about the complexities of sibling bonds, as well as the way two sisters manage to survive in a corrupt city that suffocates women at every turn. As fun as it is frightening!
New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent Edited By Margaret Busby
‘New Daughters of Africa’ is a major international collection that brings together the work of more than 200 women writers of African descent, celebrating their artistry and showcasing their contributions to modern literature and international culture.
The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History By Aida Edemariam
Edemariam’s grandmother Yetemegnu married a poet-priest, at age eight, and experienced crises and changes in Ethiopia. Edemariam paints a rich portrait of her grandmother’s full life, telling her stories through lyrical prose interspersed with poetry, prayers, and legends.
The Girl with the Louding Voice By Abi Daré
Adunni is a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education. This, her mother has told her, is the only way to get a “louding voice”-the ability to speak for herself and decide her own future. As a yielding daughter, subservient wife, and powerless slave, Adunni is told she is nothing. But while misfortunes might muffle her voice, they cannot mute it.
Great Black Canadian Nonfiction about Racial Justice (Download a PDF version of this booklist here)
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You By David Chariandy
Inspired by a famous James Baldwin essay, Chariandy writes a letter about race, identity, and belonging to his 13-year-old daughter. It’s a sweet, tender read, despite the book’s originating as a way to explain a racist encounter to his young child.
The Skin We’re In By Desmond Cole
Powerfully blending journalism and memoir, Black Toronto activist and writer Cole covers a wide variety of issues as he chronicles the year 2017. Topics include cops in schools and Pride, police brutality, immigration injustice, and the links between anti-Black racism in Canada and colonization.
Until We Are Free Edited By Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware
This collection of essays edited by the founders of Black Lives Matter Canada focuses on the movement across the country. Contributions tackles topics like Black Canadian history, LGBTQ+ Black communities, the use of social media in anti-racist activism, and more.
Policing Black Lives By Robyn Maynard
Maynard’s dense, thorough book about institutional anti-Blackness in Canada is the only comprehensive study of Canadian anti-Black racism at the state level. Covering a period of nearly 400 years, Maynard discusses slavery, segregation, incarceration, immigration, policing, poverty, education, and the child welfare system.
BlackLife By Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi
Just as the subtitle—Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom—asserts, academics Walcott and Abdillahi investigate Black Lives Matter activism in Toronto as it relates to Black activism in Canada generally and globally.
Streaming and Downloadable Video for Black History Month at VIRL
BC’s Black Pioneers, including the Stark brothers of Nanaimo
“This exhibit reveals how a group of about 800 Black immigrants, invited to settle here by Governor James Douglas, helped to stabilize British colonial communities and keep this area of Western Canada from American hands… These Pioneers were educated and skilled, became community leaders, business leaders, ministers, school board trustees and teachers. In the course of making a life in the area, the Black pioneers were an important part of the development of civic society and commerce.”
Secret Victoria: Rush to Freedom
“In the 1850s, in what is now Victoria, Governor James Douglas fought against American expansionism by bringing over hundreds of Black Americans from San Francisco. The legacy of this population is still felt today.”
Local Genealogy and Family History Resources
Are you interested in getting started with genealogy? Use Ancestry Library Edition this month to discover African Canadian family history. Use the “forms” function in Ancestry Library Edition to keep track of your research. Check out this example of an in-depth genealogy mapping of the Vancouver Island and area Gwynne / Wood family, who descended from enslaved African Americans who came to Canada in the 1800s.
Emma Stark is a famous Black Vancouver Islander who was the first Black teacher on the island in 1874. She worked at the Cranberry-Cedar School, where it was rare for both women and/or African Canadians to be employed in the profession. She died in 1890 at the age of 33 from an unknown illness. A plaque in recognition of her teaching career is located at 331 Wesley street in Nanaimo, where Emily once lived. You can view Emma Stark’s family tree and see her family’s genealogy to the present day! Watch one of her descendants, Naidine Sims talk on her family’s history.
#OwnVoices children’s books, from picture books to middle grade novels, by Black authors. Authors include Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, and Brandy Colbert. Topics range from basketball to Black history, Muhammad Ali, friendship, Viola Desmond, sister relationships, and more!
#OwnVoices teen books by Black authors, including contemporary reads by Black Canadian YA author Ben Philippe, LGBTQ+ Black stories, Black science fiction, and fantasy, and more!