“An Incontestable Beauty”: A Review of Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black

Washington Black—the third novel by Esi Edugyan and her second to win the Giller Prize—depicts the life of Washington (Wash) Black, who rises above the conditions of his time to shape a life based on his imagination, intelligence, and artistic talent. Wash seeks freedom and dignity in a society that would deny him the right to be fully human. The novel opens when Wash is eleven years old (it is narrated from his perspective as an eighteen-year-old) on Faith Plantation in Barbados in 1830. The contrast between a young and curious Washington and the injustice of his brutal surroundings is provided through the recollections of his older self: “What I felt at that moment, though I then lacked the language for it, was the raw, violent injustice of it all.” Edugyan does not shy away from the “unspeakable acts” of slavery and the way that slavery continues to affect Wash even when it is abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. Edugyan’s writing—from her careful plotting to her complex characters—speaks a veritable truth about what it means to be truly free.

You can read my full review over at Canadian Literature, here.

Intercultural Hip Hop Panel: “Telling Your Story”

Thursday, November 8 at 2:30 pm – 4 pm
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo: B210/ R275

Come check out this amazing Intercultural Hip Hop panel that I am moderating on Thursday, November 8th, as part of VIU’s 2nd annual Intercultural Hip Hop Forum.

The panel is centred on the theme of “Telling Your Story,” and I will ask this diverse panel of hip hop artists to speak about their personal journeys in finding their voice through hip hop, as well as how their art connects with culture, community, and personal identity.

Everyone is welcome to this free event!

It features three remarkable artists:

Meryem Saci is a singer, songwriter and MC with a vocal range that fuses R&B, Hip Hop, soul/jazz, reggae and Afro-Arabian rhythms. Born and raised by her single-mother in Algeria, the two were forced to escape the civil war and immigrated to Canada as political refugees. Meryem is an established artist in Montreal’s music community and a member the city’s soul-jazz-hip hop super group Nomadic Massive.

The Northwest Kid (Craig Frank Edes), from Gitxsan Nation in northern BC, is one half of the group Mob Bounce. He delivers passionate and soulful hip hop music that blends acoustics and electronics with elements of his Indigenous cultures. Since 2015, Mob Bounce has focused heavily on creating social and environmental awareness through the arts by leading workshops and youth dances to help youth explore their cultural identity.

dr.Oop is a veteran emcee and youth educator from the Los Angeles underground hip hop scene. He is best known for his dynamic MC-ing, freestyle skills, and thoughtful lyrics. dr.Oop is no stranger to BC as he has toured here every summer for the past decade, has appeared numerous times at Shambhala Music Festival and is the main man behind The Red Gold & Green Machine, a hip hop-soul-reggae project, in collaboration with Vancouver’s Tonye Aganaba.

For a complete list of events, please visit the WorldVIU Days website, here

 

A Review of Shane Rhodes’s Dead White Men

Shane Rhodes’s stunning sixth collection of poetry, Dead White Men, repurposes settler texts with pioneering deftness (words cascade, fonts change, statues silhouette, language obliterates), using poetry to critically interrogate the Eurocentrism found in many foundational settler texts. While the names of many dead white men have faded in the annals of history, their mythopoeic justifications for colonization remain woven into the fabric of Euro-American society. Stories shape our beliefs and ethics, and so there’s good reason to go back to colonial origin stories, especially given the cultural amnesia around them. As Rhodes explains in the Notes section, “I was interested in looking to these past stories (especially those focused on North America and the South Pacific), not to add to the fictions of past white heroism but to better understand the problematic relationship between the stories, the mythologies they have become, and the lands and peoples they describe.”

You can read my full review over at The Malahat Review, here.

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Intercultural Hip Hop Panel: “Telling Your Story”

Thursday, November 9 at 2:30 pm – 4 pm
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo: B305/R507 (Library Boardroom – Top Floor)

Come check out this amazing Intercultural Hip Hop panel that I am moderating on Thursday, November 9th, as part of VIU’s inaugural Intercultural Hip Hop Forum.

The panel is centred on the theme of “Telling Your Story,” and I will ask this diverse panel of hip hop artists to speak about their personal journeys in finding their voice through hip hop, as well as how their art connects with culture, community, and personal identity.

It features three remarkable artists:

Ndidi Cascade is a Vancouver-based hip hop artist of Nigerian-Italian-Irish-Canadian heritage. A talented songwriter, vocalist, and educator Ndidi has showcased her music across North America and internationally– from classrooms to stadiums. Ndidi facilitates youth empowerment workshops that use hip hop, spoken word, and dance as a medium for healthy self-expression.

Mo Moshiri has lived in four countries, was a refugee at age 3, and a Canadian citizen by age 19. He speaks English, Farsi, and German and is a member of Sweatshop Union, a BC-based conscious hip hop collective that has produced six albums, won two Western Canadian Music Awards, and earned multiple Juno nominations.

Ostwelve is a veteran emcee, youth facilitator, and actor from the Stō:lo Nation. He is widely-known for his role as “Red” in the APTN/Showcase series “Moccasin Flats.” As an emcee, he is a leader and a mentor to many in the Indigenous hip hop scene. He has opened for major acts such as K’Naan, Guru, and Snoop Dogg.

And on Friday, Nov. 3rd, Montreal’s multilingual soul-jazz global hip hop super group Nomadic Massive will be performing at a “Pre-Party” at the Old City Station Pub. Get tickets, here.

For a complete list of events, please visit the WorldVIU Days website.

 

“holding each other up”: A Review of Katherena Vermette’s The Break

Katherena Vermette’s The Break is a devastatingly beautiful novel that depicts the bonds between the women of an extended Indigenous family. With warp and weft, Vermette weaves together the voices of numerous intergenerational women to tell their personal stories as they deal with the enduring after-effects of trauma. The prose is sparse, yet dense (“Stella blinks a tear”), as the narrative takes a bare-knuckles approach to cut a jagged truth. Like her stunning poetic debut, North End Love Songs (2012), The Break deftly crafts Vermette’s complex relationship to Winnipeg’s North End. A surface reading concerns the mystery surrounding the sexual assault of a thirteen-year-old Métis girl vis-à-vis the police procedural that unfolds as a result of the crime: “Aboriginal female. Blood loss. Signs of sexual assault.” But the novel is far more complex than this, using numerous viewpoints to reveal the complicated sociopolitical conditions that produce violence and racism, and that cause harm to people, especially women, in Indigenous communities.

Click here to read my full review at Canadian Literature.

“The Gathering of Nations” Anthem

I was fortunate to take part in recording and mixing the audio portion of Marlene Rice’s (Hwiem’) “The Gathering of Nations” Anthem at VIU’s Cowichan campus. The video work is done by my colleague Jay Ruzesky in the Creative Writing department. It is a song that welcomes students to learn and it is performed in the Hul’qumi’num language. As Marlene Rice puts it:

This song teaches us respect for our family and our friends. It says “speak your mind, and keep your mind strong.” Our communities want to bring our generations together. We need to always think about the elders of the past and the teachings they provide and bring to the present day that will give strength to our youth. We can take a look at our young people and look at the elders of the past and form a vision of bringing them together so they can survive in this world.

Feel free to share.

Hogan’s Alley Remixed: Learning through Wayde Compton’s Poetics

Tomorrow, Friday, November 25, you are invited to step into Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic neighbourhood and a focal point of Black culture prior to its destruction in the late 1960s. I will be delivering the final Arts and Humanities Colloquium for the term, entitled Hogan’s Alley Remixed: Learning through Wayde Compton’s Poetics. 

My talk will look at the work of Vancouver-born poet, essayist, DJ, and historian Wayde Compton, whose collection, Performance Bond, explores the destruction of Hogan’s AlleyCompton incorporates hip-hop and turntable poetics in his piece to recover the past and effectively blend such histories into the present.

The presentation will mix images, sound, and text. VIU student and bassist Darin Nicolle will provide some bass accompaniment during the presentation and there will be an opening performance piece on mashup culture. 

The presentation is from 10-11:30 a.m. at Malaspina Theatre (on the Nanaimo VIU campus). The sessions are free to attend. Please join us at 9:30 am for coffee, tea, cookies, and conversation in the theatre lobby.

Press:

Nanaimo Bulletin: Vancouver Island University lecture examines poet Wayde Compton’s work

The Navigator: Exploring historic Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley through Wayde Compton’s eyes

Image Credit: RACHEL STERN / The News Bulletin