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A Primer of African Canadian Literature - George Elliott Clarke's history
Writing of his sojourns in the Grand Republic, Matthew Arnold, in his article "General Grant" (1887), maligns the Yankee desire to craft a native literature: "We have `the American Walter Scott', `the American Wordsworth'; nay, I see advertised The Primer of American Literature. Imagine the face of Philip or Alexander at hearing of a Primer of Macedonian Literature!" Nettled by this seeming provincialism, Arnold wonders, "Are we to have a Primer of Canadian Literature too, and a Primer of Australian?" For this echt-Victorian arbiter of taste, the offshoots of Britain were simply "contributories to one great literature-English Literature." To wish otherwise was presumably to engender Frankenstein monsters: newfangled canons not only "absurd", but also "retarding". Though it would be nice to dismiss his qualms, his objections to the creation of new literatures are echoed today by every critic who disbelieves that any given particularity must insist upon its distinctiveness vis-à-vis a "parent culture". Thus his opinion warrants interrogation.
I think the Italian-Canadian scholar Joseph Pivato undermines Arnold by positing, in Echo: Essays on Other Literatures (1994), that "a distinct culture is vital to the life of a people; it survives beyond language, beyond geography, and beyond political states." I confess, then, that a degree of cultural assertiveness informs my articulation of the existence of an African-Canadian literature. Indeed, I accept the African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates's thesis, in Figures in Black (1987), that black literature depicts a complex and ironic relation to [its] criticism: allegations of an absence [lead] directly to a presence [fostering] a literature often inextricably bound in a dialogue with its potentially harshest critics."
Uninformed commentaries reduce African-Canadian literature to a matter of "West Indian writers" exploring "the tensions between `have' and `have-not' nations, and the racial and cultural hostilities that are the residue of British colonialism, as well as the problems faced by the visible immigrants in Canada"-as Tamara Palmer and Beverly Raspich assert, pitiably, in The Canadian Encyclopedia (1988). Certainly that demands rebuttal. Moreover, Canadian anthologies and histories that omit African-Canadian contributions require chastisement. I hope that this article will nudge us in both directions.

African-Canadian literature has been, from its origins, the work of political exiles and native dissidents. It began in crisis, matured in crisis, and exists in crisis. The first authors in this tradition were Black Loyalists: African-Americans who rejected the slavery-sanctioning American Revolution in favour of the British pledge of land and liberty. Settled in the Maritimes (principally in Nova Scotia) in 1783, a third of the original 3,500-strong contingent, fed up with British North American prejudice decamped for Sierra Leone in 1792. Among this party, David George, a Baptist minister, and Boston King, a Methodist, published memoirs in 1793 and 1798 respectively. John Marrant, the most successful author of this period, was, though, neither a Loyalist per se nor a slave. He was, decidedly, an apolitical Methodist missionary, whose Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black (Now Going to Preach the Gospel in Nova-Scotia), an almost magic realist account of his bucolic captivity among the Cherokee, first published in 1785, enjoyed at least twenty-one printings. His text marks the genesis of African-Canadian literature.
Exiles and refugees continued to shape the nascent literature during the nineteenth century. Tens of thousands of African-Americans settled in British North America-in the Canadas and British Columbia-before the extirpation of American slavery in 1865. Some "fugitives", settlers, and cross-border migrants published abolitionist-oriented texts. One early work was Peter A. Williams's Discourse. for the benefit of the Coloured Community of Wilberforce in Upper Canada, published in New York City in 1830. The first text by an African-Canadian woman, A Plea for Emigration, or, Notes of Canada West, a tract intended to persuade African-Americans to move to southern Ontario, was published in 1852 by Mary Anne Shadd. Outright anti-slavery agitation is represented by several major texts, including Josiah Henson's oft-reprinted Life of Josiah Henson, formerly a Slave, now an Inhabitant of Canada (1849), which served as a source for Harriet Beecher Stowe's incendiary abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). Henry Bibb, the founder of Voice of the Fugitive, the first black newspaper in Canada, published his Narrative in 1849. Compiled by Benjamin Drew, who was white, The Refugee, or, a North-Side View of Slavery (1856), rates greater attention, for it presents the oral recollections of ex-U.S. slaves who had "ridden" the Underground Railroad to Canada. Samuel Ringgold Ward's Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro; his anti-slavery labours in the United States, Canada & England, published in 1855, rips the veil from Upper Canadian racism and devotes ten pages to skewering the pro-slavery musings of Canada's most vaunted early writer, Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Slave narratives were also penned by Lewis and Milton Clarke (1845-46) and by Theophilus Austin Steward (1856). But the strangest work in this genre is a booklet, The Book of the Bible Against Slavery, inked by John William Robertson, an ex-Virginia slave, and issued in Halifax in 1854. This curious text, the only slave narrative to appear in Canada, employs a richly apocalyptic style: "The Spirit of Slavery never seeks refuge in the Bible of its own accord.. Its asylum is its sepulchre, its city of refuge the city of destruction.."
To fully reconstruct early African-Canadian literature, it is necessary, I think, to repatriate several African-American writers to Canada, mainly on the basis of their one-time Canadian residency. Bibb, Ward, Steward, the Clarkes, and Williams, though they spent most of their lives in the United States are (as I presumed above) eminent candidates for African-Canadian canonization. To be frank, my strategy here affirms the Franco-Ontarian René Dionne's insight in La Littérature Régionale (1993) that "une littérature régionale possède déjà un corpus d'oeuvres au moment où ses promoteurs la proclament comme un domaine particulier." Indeed, Acadian literature lays claim to the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author of Evangeline: A Tale of Acadia, though he never set foot in Canada. African-Canadian literature should possess just as wide a scope.
Three writers in particular should be inducted into the canon: Noah Calwell Cannon, James Madison Bell, and Martin Robinson Delaney. Cannon, a native of Delaware, spent the last six years of his life in Canada (1844-50), becoming, retroactively, Canada's first black poet, for his work The Rock of Wisdom, which appeared in 1833. Bell, a native of Ohio, also spent six years in Canada (1854-60), publishing his first text in 1862 and his Poetical Works in 1901. Another African-American, Delaney is, I think, the first African-Canadian novelist. His well-known fiction, "Blake, or the Huts of America", serialized in the Anglo-African Magazine (and its successor, the Weekly Anglo-African), between 1859 and 1862, was written in Chatham, Ontario, where he dwelt from 1856 to 1859.
(The question of who should be considered the first African-Canadian novelist demands further scrutiny. In 1985, Lorris Elliott awarded the title to a Brian Gypsin, for his work To Master, a Last Good Night, published in New York in 1946. But Elliott was wrong. First, the author's name, spelled correctly, is Brion Gysin; secondly, the book's title, rendered properly, is To Master, a Long Goodnight: The Story of Uncle Tom, a Historical Narrative; thirdly, the book is a biography, not a novel; lastly, Gysin was American, not Canadian, and Celtic-Swiss in ancestry, not African. Elliott's thesis must be dismissed. Still, two other contenders for the crown remain. John Hearne, a native of Montreal who removed to Jamaica, published his first novel in London in 1955; the Guyanese-born Jan Carew, whose first book appeared in 1952, later acquired Canadian citizenship. Neither Hearne nor Carew has, however, published a title in Canada. A final contender is Austin Clarke, who can rightly bear the title of being the first African-Canadian writer to publish a novel in Canada, namely his 1964 work, The Survivors of the Crossing.)
When early African-Canadian writers were not assaulting slavery, they were organizing churches. In Nova Scotia, African Baptist ministers published collections of spirituals and hymns, church histories, minutes, and the occasional sermon, producing most of the Africadian (Black Nova Scotian) literature in circulation up to 1975. The most substantial of these works was Peter E. McKerrow's History of the Coloured Baptists of Nova Scotia (1895), the first text published by a Caribbean-born writer in Canada. R. Nathaniel Dett, an Ontarian composer and poet, published his compilation of spirituals, Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro, in 1927, and what was presumably a book of poems, The Album of a Heart, in 1911.
Returning to early secular writers, I should mention that the lawyer A. B. Walker issued the first African-Canadian literary journal, Neith, in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1904-5, while, in 1916 and 1918, a now forgotten native of Ontario, Theodore Henry Shackelford, published two collections of Negro dialect poems in Philadelphia. Another Ontarian, Matthew George Matthews, saw his two-volume Wit, Wisdom and Philosophy printed in 1915 and 1925.
Even a cursory survey of early African-Canadian literature renders untenable the position that it is only a recent invention. But the contemporary period, commencing in the 1960s, with the work of the Barbadian-Canadian novelist Austin Clarke and the Haitian-Canadian poets Gérard Étienne and Anthony Phelps, requires elaboration.

It would take an entire book to chronicle, in depth, the development of African-Canadian literature since 1960. Hence I will restrict myself to a few tentative observations.
1. The exile tradition persists. Haitian and Anglo-Caribbean émigrés-especially from Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica-have become, at least from the perspective of Toronto, major voices in the literature. Dionne Brand, Claire Harris, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Theresa Lewis, David Woods, and André Alexis hail from Trinidad; Austin Clarke, Cecil Foster, and Loris Elliott are Bajan hombres; Makeda Silvera, Kwame Dawes, Olive Senior, Ayanna Black, Pamela Mordecai, the vernacular poet Louise Bennett ("Miss Lou"), the reggae poet Patrick Arthurs ("St. Patrick"), and the Dub poets-Lillian Allen, Devon Haughton, and Ahdri Zhina Mandiela-are all natives of Jamaica. The first African-Canadian published play, The Captive, penned by the Caribbean-born Lennox Brown, appeared in 1966. Haitian-Canadian writers number, not just Étienne and Phelps and-that enfant terrible-Dany Laferrière, but also Émile Ollivier, Roland Morisseau, Sonia Pascale, Jacqueline Beaugé-Rosier, and Liliane Dehoux, to name only a few. Other Caribbean-rooted writers include the poet Clifton Joseph, formerly of Antigua, and the novelist H. Nigel Thomas, once of St. Vincent.
African-American natives also continue to contribute to the literature. Notable figures include David Pinson (whose Studies in Black and White, a suite of maudlin poems on a doomed black-white love affair, appeared in 1966); Frederick Ward, a Montreal-and-Nova-Scotia-based, jazz-influenced, masterful scripter of lyrical poems, screenplays, dramas, and fiction; Charles R. Saunders, a Halifax novelist and amateur historian; Ernesto Cuevas, an overlooked Ottawa short-story writer; and the Toronto poet Charles C. Smith, who also edited the vital African-Canadian anthology, sad dances in a field of white (1985).
The South African poet Arthur Nortje, who spent two years in Toronto and Vancouver, may be considered the first African-born African-Canadian writer. For one thing, his book Dead Roots (1973), published posthumously in London, reflected his Canadian sojourn. The first African native to publish in Canada, however, was another South African, Harold Head, whose only book of poems appeared in 1974. Interestingly, Head also edited the third African-Canadian anthology, Canada in Us Now (1976), which followed Camilla Haynes's Black Chat (1973) and Liz Cromwell's One Out of Many (1975). Other vital South Africans are Rozena Maart, Rayda Jacobs, and Archie Crail. A native of Malawi, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, has been publishing fiction since 1976. Miguna Miguna, a Kenyan exile, has issued four titles since his arrival in Canada in 1988. The Ugandan-born playwright George Seremba won acclaim for Come Good Rain (1994). Epah Fonkeng, another playwright, hails from Cameroun (the linguistic inverse of Canada). Francophone African writers include Makombo Bamboté, Assar-Mary Santana, and Maguy Kabamba.
2. As the foregoing (not exhaustive) catalogue suggests, African-Canadian literature is a heterogeneous and polyglot discourse-a medley of accents. Still, it mirrors the standard Canadian regional variations, a fact critics have ignored. West Coast African-Canadian writers, like Christopher James (1969-70), David Odhiambo (1995), and Janisse Browning (1994), compose avant-garde works. (See also Peter Hudson's beautiful "little magazine", diaspora.) Across the Prairies, the mode is either crisply ironic-see Suzette Mayr (1991) and Nigel Darbasie (1988)-or coolly realistic-see Crail (1992) and Cheryl Foggo (1990). Ontario offers a cornucopia of traditions and styles. Quebec's writers treat linguistic and racial divides: Michel Adam (1976), Francklin Allien (1977), Darius James (1992), and, of course, Laferrière (1985-95). (An Ontario native, Lawrence Hill, addresses the same dialectics in his novel Some Great Thing (1992).) East Coast writers veer toward high classical modes (see Anna Minerva Henderson (1967), traditional verse (George A. Borden (1985)), nitty-gritty realism (Saunders (1989)), and populism (Maxine Tynes (1987-94)).
3. As immigrant writers have gained prominence, indigenous African-Canadian writers from Alberta, southern Ontario, and the East Coast have tended to craft community histories, memoirs, and autobiographies. See, for instance, Velma Carter's vignettes of African-Albertan history; Foggo's memoir about Calgary's black community in the 1950s and 1960s; Carol Talbott's study of Windsor, Ontario, in the 1960s, and Karen Shadd-Evelyn's celebration of Buxton, Ontario; Stephen Hubbard's biography of Toronto's first black politician and deputy mayor, William Peyton Hubbard; Rella Braithwaite's honourings of women; Daniel Hill's history of Ontario's black settlers; Gwendolyn and John Robinson's records of Chatham, Ontario; Charlotte Ferry's treatments of Windsor, Ontario; Dorothy Shadd Shreve's analyses of "AfriCanadian" religion; the genealogical researches of Hilda Dungy; Calvin Ruck's chroniclings of the lives of World War I servicemen; Borden's history-tincted rhymes; Pearleen Oliver's Africadian church and community histories; and any work bearing the imprint of the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia.
4. Given the reluctance of mainstream Canadian publishers to handle black writers (until recently), small presses have produced most of the literature. Contemporary African-Canadian literature was ushered into being, in the mid-sixties, by a constellation of presses around Toronto and Montreal. In Toronto, Cromwell's WACACRO published the first anthology of black Canadian women's writing (1975), while Head's Khoisan Artists produced Cromwell's own poetry (1975) and Brand's first chapbook (1978). Head's anthology, Canada in Us Now (1976), and Charles Roach's sole poetry text were carried by NC Press.
The real action, though, was in Montreal. Here, Leo Bertley's Bilongo Publishers launched the Africadian Renaissance by producing Gloria Wesley-Daye's sole chapbook of poems in 1975. Another Montreal press, Mondiale, produced poetry by the Jamaica-born Hopeton Anderson (1975), Nova Scotia's Peter A. Bliss Bailey (1975), and Jerry Herman.
For a brief, shining period, from 1975 to 1979, there were likely more African-Canadian titles available in French than in English. Francophone presses like Antoine Naaman's Éditions Naaman and Nouvelle Optique simply outperformed their anglophone counterparts. Éditions Naaman saw into print works by Raymond Chassagne (1976), Alix Renaud (1976), Maurice Jacques (1977 and 1979), Roger Pereira (1977), and Yves Antoine (1979). Nouvelle Optique published Phelps (1976), Frank Fouché (1976), Jean-Richard Laforest (1978), Maximilien Laroche (1978), Serge Legagneur (1978), Étienne (1979), and Morisseau (1979).
Toronto regained the momentum in the late 1970s and early 1980s when a triumvirate of essential presses was established: Anne Wallace's Williams-Wallace, Silvera's Sister Vision Press, and the collective enterprise Domestic Bliss. Williams-Wallace introduced Canadians to Philip (1980), Elliott (1982), Harris (1984), and Cuevas (1986), and published all of Brand's work between 1982 and 1988. Sister Vision Press has added depth and texture to Canadian literature. Its roster of authors features Brand (1983), Mandiela (1985), Djanet Sears (1990), Althea Prince (1993), and Mordecai (1993). Domestic Bliss covered the politicized raps of Allen (1982), Haughton (1983), and Joseph (1983). Women's Press and Kids Can Press were also pivotal in establishing anglo African-Canadian literature.
On the franco front, a phalanx of vital publishers emerged in the 1980s, including Kauss Éditeurs, Éditions du CIDIHCA, Humanitas-Nouvelle Optique, VLB, and Triptyque. In Atlantic Canada, Goose Lane Editions, Pottersfield Press, and the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia began to publish black writers in the mid-eighties. Gradually, across the country, other presses, new and old, large and small, have drafted African-Canadian writers for their lists.
5. Despite my last assertion, self-publication remains a critical necessity for many black Canadian writers. From McKerrow in 1895 to Toronto's "Black Katt" (Robert O. Brown) in 1995, self-publishing has been an honourable way of putting one's work before the public. Crucially, Anna Minerva Henderson, of Saint John, New Brunswick, brought out her set of Miltonic poems, Citadel, in 1967, when she was eighty, thereby producing probably the première collection of poems by an African-Canadian woman. Had it not been for Gershom Williams's solo effort of 1968, Austin Clarke would have remained the sole published-in-Canada, anglo African-Canadian novelist from 1964 until 1974, when Truman Green and Frederick Ward both released novels.
6. Foreign presses also helped bring African-Canadian literature into being, with the most critical ones being located in London, New York, Paris, Kingston (Jamaica), and, oui, certainement, Port-au-Prince. Make no mistake, the Haitian contribution to our literature is immense, astonishing, très, très riche.
7. Poetry has been the medium of choice for African-Canadian writers, though fiction, particularly short fiction, has gained in popularity over the past ten years. African-Canadian writers have also invaded the field of children's literature, with Allen (1990-92), Mordecai (1987-92), the prolific C. Everard Palmer (1960-91), and the champion in the genre, Richardo Keens Douglas (1992-94), all producing worthy work. Socio-political texts occupy a prominent place in the African-Canadian canon, with significant titles by Brand, Nourbese Philip, Silvera, Wilson Head, Daniel Hill, Vincent D'Oyley, Carl James, Adrienne Shadd, Georges Andrade, Claude, Moïse, Cary Hector, and Ollivier. Histories and memoirs have also proven to be popular forms. See, in this regard, Oliver (1953-94); Peggy Bristow (as co-ordinator) (1994); and Saunders (1990 and 1994). The one literary mode that lags well behind the others-in terms of publication-is drama. Yet Brown (1966), Walter M. Borden (1986), Sears (1990), Mandiela (1991), Diana Braithwaite (1993), and Seremba (1994) have all produced strong plays. Sister Vision Press, with three titles to its credit, has published more African-Canadian drama than any other publisher.
8. Translations from one official language into the other are pitifully rare. The only African-Canadian writers who are fully accessible in the "other" language-with the current exceptions of their latest titles-are Laferrière (who has also been translated into Dutch) and Keens-Douglas (who has also been translated into Spanish). Clarke, Brand, Harris, Frederick Ward, and Nourbese Philip have no titles translated into French (though Nourbese Philip's novel Harriet's Daughter (1988) is available in German (1993)). Shamefully, no work by Morisseau or Beaugé-Rosier has been englished. Ollivier has one title in English. Étienne has one in English, one in Portuguese, and one in German. Not one of Phelps's texts is available in English, but one of them can be read in Spanish. Perhaps because his novel treats linguistic tensions in Manitoba, Lawrence Hill's Some Great Thing (1992) was published in French translation by a Franco-Manitoban press last fall. Foster's novel No Man in the House (1991) and his essay Distorted Mirror: Canada's Racist Face (1991) have both been rendered into French (in 1995 and 1991, respectively). Darius James's bigarré, surrealistic novel Negrophobia (1992), first published in Toronto and New York, resurfaced last year in Paris. The children's author C. Everard Palmer has also seen one of his books transfigured into French.
To put it mildly, more translations are essential.

To conclude, African-Canadian literature has had a long history-but also a more recent efflorescence. It is a distinctive canon, for it draws upon a variety of cultural (and "national") traditions, accents, and languages. Though I've not discussed themes in this survey, the literature worries identity issues surrounding race, gender, class, language, and region. Perhaps its most persistent quality has been its tendency to appropriate the "colonial" and to transubstantiate it into native forms. I will extend this hesitant summation, but in another article.

The editors observe that George Elliott Clarke has all too modestly refrained here from mentioning his own poetry.
A Nova Scotian now at Duke University in North Carolina, he amazingly manages to get back to Canada every couple of weeks or so.
He wants to thank all those who assisted his research for this essay.


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