Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling by Esi Edugyan

I truly believe that Esi Edugyan is one of the most talented and important writers of our time. All of her novels are amazing and thought-provoking, and while I could say that about a lot of writers (and do), you should believe me when I say I was thrilled and a little overwhelmed to get to review Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling for The Miramichi Reader. Part of the CBC Massey Lecture Series, this contains the 2021 Lectures, given by Edugyan. For the uninitiated, the Massey Lectures are an annual set of public lectures given by a noted scholar or public figure, co-hosted by Massey College, CBC, and House of Anansi Press. They’re broadcast on CBC, as well as published in book format by House of Anansi. They’re a Big Deal, in terms of public lectures on important issues – in an accessible, open format to the masses. And Edugyan’s lectures were truly perfect, examining race and exclusion through the lens of storytelling, visual art, and her own life.

“Edugyan’s lectures were truly perfect, examining race and exclusion through the lens of storytelling, visual art, and her own life.”

Broken into five sections, Edugyan takes us on a round-the-world examination of art and race, drawing on her own experiences in different countries to look at whose stories get to be told in art and her lived experience as a Black woman, having studied, created, and interacted with art regularly throughout her life. Starting with our Western, white idea of “what art is,” Edugyan brings us to Europe in chapter one, titled “Europe and the Art of Seeing.” Edugyan frames this chapter with her experience of sitting for an oil painting recently, while exploring who gets to be painted, and why – and despite the persistent idea that Europe was white and only people of status are white, explores the depiction of Blackness in “high art.” Edugyan continues to expand the question of inclusion, and why, as well as pushing back against traditional, white-washed narratives around the world, exploring the treatment of Blackness in ghost stories in the second chapter, focusing on Canadian ghost stories. Edugyan speaks of ghost stories as “at their core repositories of our pasts – both our personal pasts and our public ones.” (p. 46) So who are we forgetting in these pasts, as well as who we’re forgetting in the telling of them, as ghost stories so reflect the morals and beliefs of our present, rather than the past they’re telling us about.

Chapter Three is titled “American and the Art of Empathy,” exploring racial passing and the One Drop Rule. Edguyan steps into the discourse around Blackfishing, and famous examples of white people living as Black people, and then being found out – such as Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug. Edugyan is vulnerable and open in her discussion, and deeply generous in giving us her complicated thoughts on the idea of transracialism. It’s an uncomfortable chapter, forcing us to dive deeper into the messiness of racial passing.

The final two chapters are “Africa and the Art of the Future,” and “Asia and the Art of Storytelling,” both of which I think are the most interesting and provocative chapters in the book. Afrofuturism is given its time to shine here, a joyful chapter in comparison to the others. Edugyan also examines the far less joyful core at the heart of Afrofuturism: a continent which was brutally colonized, its history suppressed and revised, frames imagining any kind of future after that as a radical act. Conversely, Eugyan ends the book with an examination of Blackness in Asia, one that is more complex than we often have been told in again, white Western stories.

Edugyan’s lectures are excellent. A perfect blend of memoir and thought, pop culture and philosophy. They are extremely accessible and challenging, asking us to more thoughtfully consider race in our consumption of art and history. My own hype for this was actually not enough; Edugyan’s work is masterful and essential.

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, ESI EDUGYAN was raised in Calgary, Alberta. She is the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of Washington Black, which was a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Man Booker Award and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize; Half-Blood Blues, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Man Booker Prize and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize; and The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. She is also the author of Dreaming of Elsewhere, which is part of the Kreisel Memorial Lecture Series. She has held fellowships in the U.S., Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487010508
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487010508

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Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.