AfriCANthology edited by A. Gregory Frankson

AfriCANthology is a fascinating new anthology of work by Black Canadian authors. Although it would be impossible to capture the entirety of exciting and important work produced by Black authors across Canada, A. Gregory Frankson does an impressive job of curating a wide array of Black voices in this collection. The authors in this anthology find themselves at many intersections: some hail from the prairies, while others call the east coast home; some discuss their queer identities; some grapple with the complications of a mixed Black identity. Frankson also makes a point of including voices from French Canada—these essays and poems are written in the original French, followed immediately by an English translation. The collection features both poetry and essays—some of which veer into the realm of creative nonfiction or memoir, and some that are more academic in their approach. In short, AfriCANthology provides a great introduction to contemporary Black Canadian authors and their experiences in this country.

“I found the anthology to be extremely engaging and lively because of the range of voices included in the book, and especially because of the variety of styles at play.”

Frankson is clear about the purpose of the anthology in his introduction. He insists that reading this book is not meant to be a passive action, explaining that the book is meant to elicit a response from its readers. The anthology “celebrates Black life, honours Black struggle, commemorates Black legacy, and trumpets Black triumph”. Further, it is “an unruly, noisy, free-flowing, multifaceted glimpse into what it means to identify as Black in the third decade of the twenty-first century in Canada” (iii). The collection absolutely delivers on these promises. I found the anthology to be extremely engaging and lively because of the range of voices included in the book, and especially because of the variety of styles at play. I enjoyed moving from the rhythm and intricate wordplay of poetry to the personal stories detailed in some of the essays.

Readers who are interested in Black Canadian writing may recognize some familiar names in the collection like George Elliott Clarke and Wayde Compton, and they will enjoy meeting other authors they have not had the pleasure of reading. There are too many great pieces to mention in this short review, but I especially enjoyed the cadence and energy of Reed “iZrEAL” Jones’ poetry; it made me seek out recordings of his spoken word. Thandiwe McCarthy’s essay “Expressing in the Dark” is essential reading for anyone who might subscribe to the ever-present myth that Canada is a post-racial nation. He writes, “There is no safe space for Black artists in New Brunswick” (35). If you have any doubts about this, I urge you to read his essay. Bertrand Bickersteth echoes a similar sentiment in his piece, “An Alberta Rose for Black Canada”. He reminds us, “Alberta is not innocent”—the province is not an innocent perpetrator of racist attitudes; it continues to actively support systems that oppress people of colour, just like the other provinces of Canada. And of course, as a person with mixed racial ancestry myself, I appreciated the pieces that discuss the particular challenges of living as a black mixed race person in Canada. Andrea Thompson’s essay, “The Active Resistance of Questioning” is a great piece that tackles this issue, among others.

I hope that many readers are interested in diversifying their reading lists this year, and if you are looking to read more Black Canadian writing in 2022, this book is a great place to start. The anthology provides an excellent sample of some incredible Black Canadian thinkers and writers. It will certainly inspire you to read more of their work and to seek out more Black voices to read and to learn from.

Greg Frankson is a Toronto-based poet, author, educator and community activist. He has published three poetry collections, including Cerebral Stimulation (BeWrite Books, 2005), Lead on a Page (IIMHL, 2012), and A Weekly Dose of Ritallin (FriesenPress, 2015). Greg’s work also appeared in the anthologies Mic Check (Quattro Books, 2008), That Not Forgotten (Hidden Brook Press, 2012) and The Great Black North (Frontenac House, 2013). He has released four album-length studio recordings and collaborated musically with several notable emcees, DJs and vocalists. He appeared on CBC TV’s Canada’s Smartest Person in 2012 and is the former resident poet on the CBC Radio One program Here and Now Toronto.

In addition to his artistic achievements, Greg was the first African-Canadian to serve a term as President of Canada’s oldest undergraduate student government at Queen’s University in 1996-97, and was a vocal advocate for the on-campus recognition of Robert Sutherland, Canada’s first Black university graduate and the first Black lawyer in British North America. In October 2009, Queen’s officially rededicated its Policy Studies Building as Robert Sutherland Hall.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Renaissance (Feb. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 296 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990086098
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990086090

Rachel Fernandes was raised in Ottawa, where she completed her Honours BA and MA in English at the University of Ottawa. She is now based in Kingston, where she is a PhD Candidate studying contemporary North American literature. Her research focuses on mixed race identity in various genres, including memoir, poetry, and the novel.
Over the last decade, she has published a smattering of poems through small presses such as In/Words, Joypuke, Coven, and Feathertale, and served on the editorial boards of The Ottawa Arts Review and The Lamp Literary Journal. She loves reading even more than she loves writing, and is excited to share and discuss new Canadian work through The Miramichi Reader.