Black and Caribbean Book Affair celebrates imagination

Habiba Cooper Diallo

When the pages of books featured at the 2021 Black and Caribbean Book Affair, October 14 to 17, are turned they will reveal works boldly discussing issues of colour, race, education, discrimination, identity, the COVID-19 pandemic, self-empowerment and more at the virtual and hybrid event.

Hosted by A Different Booklist Cultural Centre: The People’s Residence (ADBCC) in Toronto, the annual festival will showcase the new books of 14 authors, 3 editors, lovers of literature, community advocates and a panel discussion to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection at the Toronto Public Library. All of the events will be live streamed on Facebook Live except a ticketed affair with award-winning author Myriam J.A. Chancy.

In 1973, Dr. Rita Cox pioneered the Black Heritage and West Indian Resource Collection at Parkdale Branch. It was subsequently established at three other branches: York Woods, 1984; Cedarbrae, 1989; Maria A. Shchuka, 2003.

The veteran librarian retired from the Toronto Public Library in 1995, having served as head of Parkdale for 21 years. In 1998, the important resource was renamed the Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection, and two years later renamed in honour of its founder. The Rita Cox Endowment Fund is established within the Toronto Public Library Foundation to support and enhance the growth of the Collection.

Carl James

The Collection features more than 16,000 print and audiovisual materials for adults, children and teens about the Black and Caribbean experience with special emphasis on Canadian material. It is now available at the Parkdale, Maria A. Shchuka, Malvern and Downsview branches.

The Black and Caribbean Book Affair will kick off on the evening of October 14 with a toast to all the Black and Caribbean authors who won prizes this year.

In the first wave of the pandemic, Olive Senior, the renowned author of 18 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature and other published work, wrote poems that she shared on social media. They were subsequently published as Pandemic Poems: First Wave.

Senior was named Jamaica’s Poet Laureate for 2021 to 2024 on March 17, 2021. Her many awards include Canada’s Writers Trust Matt Cohen Award for Lifetime Achievement, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies and the Gold Medal of the Institute of Jamaica. Her work has been taught internationally and is widely translated. 

Senior will discuss her new collection of poems at 7:00 p.m. that evening with Paula de Ronde, founder of Arts and Culture Jamaica Inc.

The panel discussion about the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection will happen from 12:00-1:00 p.m. on October 15 with co-moderator and Caribbean culture enthusiast Denise Herrera Jackson.

Afua Cooper

Educator, arranger and author, Dr. Salah Wilson, will showcase Steelpan Playing With Theory, a steelpan textbook, and The Steelpan Teacher’s Manual on October 15, 3:00-4:00 p.m. in conversation with educator and musician, Ivor Picou.

Like Senior, Canute Lawrence, a language and literature teacher for more than three decades who has taught in Jamaica, USA and Canada, has written a collection of poems, Pathology of a Pandemic. Author Gayle Gonsalves will interview Lawrence from 4:30-5:00 p.m.

Carl James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education at York University, is the author of several books, including the recent Colour Matters: Essays on the Experiences, Education, and Pursuits of Black Youth. From 6:00-7:00 p.m., he will be in conversation with fellow educator, Nigel Barriffe, about the new book.

Myriam J. A. Chancy, Guggenheim Fellow & HBA Chair of the Humanities at Scripps College, has written What Storm, What Thunder, a novel on the 2010 Haiti earthquake, published by Harper Collins Canada and Tin House in the USA.

Chancy is a Haitian-Canadian/American writer born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and subsequently raised there and in Canada. 

Chancy will share thoughts about her book with storyteller and author, Itah Sadu, 7:30-8:30 p.m. This is a ticketed event ($25, which includes a copy of the book) and the Zoom link will be sent to those who purchase tickets.

Myriam Chancy

On Saturday, October 16, programing will start at 10:00 a.m. for an hour with Tania Hernandez ‘Miss Tania Lou,’ author of One Pot: True Stories from Jamaica & Canada (Stories, Recipes, Poems).She will be in conversation with Gayle Gonsalves.

Ivelyn Harris is a Jamaican Maroon descendant and has been a traditional herbalist for over 40 years practising from her cottage in the foothills of the Blue and John Crow Mountains. She will talk about her new book from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Children and their parents will be entertained between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. by authors Ayana Francis and Kodi Dill.

Francis’ new book is ABC Where are We? The West Indies and she will be interviewed by Nigel Barriffe from 1:00-1:30 p.m.

Follow along with Caiden and Idris as they explore the Caribbean countries and territories through their ABCs! They’ll take you on imaginary adventures – from building pink sandcastles in the Bahamas, hiking Jamaica’s Dunn’s River Falls, to falling in love with the rhythm of Trinidad and Tobago’s steel pan, notes a description of the book.

Kodi Dill, educator, spoken word artist and author of Welcome to the Cypher will share the story of his book with author Yolanda Marshall.

From 2:30 to 3:00 p.m., storyteller Gayle Gonsalves will showcase her new book My Stories Have No Endings with author Yolanda Marshall.

Co-editors Nicole Salmon, Camila Pereira and Nneka Allen will talk with Itah Sadu about Collecting Courage, an anthology of 14 Black fundraisers, from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m.

Rabin Ramah, author of I Only Make Love in Montreal, a collection of stories, will be in conversation with Gayle Gonsalves from 4:30-5:00 p.m.

​To close out Saturday’s programming, historian, poet, and author Afua Cooper, who has contributed to the new anthology Afrikan Wisdom: New Voices Talk Black Liberation, Buddhism, and Beyond (North Atlantic Books) and her daughter, Habiba Cooper Diallo, who has written #BlackInSchool (University of Regina Press) will participate in a book signing and sidewalk party at ADBCC from 5:15-6:15 p.m.

On the closing day of the Book Affair, October 17, Aina-Nia Ayo’dele will launch her new book, Self: An Inner Journey to Re-Membering Your Power, at The Diner’s Corner, 678 Yonge Street in Toronto. This is a ticketed event with limited seating and those interested should RSVP at The event will be live streamed on Facebook Live.