Writing while Black

Tok Symposium hosts panel on Black writing in CanLit

Spoken-word poet Chimwemwe Undi, one of the panelists for Writing While Black in Canlit. 

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Diaspora Dialogues will host panels on Nov. 16 on being a Black writer in Canada. The Writing While Black in CanLit panel is a part of Tok Winnipeg, a free, two-day symposium in its second year.

Diaspora Dialogues is an organization that promotes diversity in Canadian literature. Tok Symposium will be held at the Manitoba Museum and includes two panels: Writing While Black and Vulnerability and the Public Space, a masterclass in young adult writing with Governor General’s Award-winner David A. Robertson and a live podcast taping with an interview of Inuit writer and scholar Norma Dunning.

Tok Symposium also held a Writing While Black in CanLit panel at the Toronto symposium. Zalika Reid-Benta, the program manager at Diaspora Dialogues, says both panels are inspired by author Whitney French, who edited Black Writers Matter, an anthology of Black writers’ works.

Reid-Benta says that French speaks a lot about how “Black writers create space for other Black writers, communicating/creating that history and mythology and showing the ways that Black writers (do this) all throughout Canada.” That’s why “Diaspora Dialogues (wants) to see what other provinces and other cities have to offer and what their differences are. That’s our goal. To be true to what Canada and what Canadian literature is.”

The Winnipeg Writing While Black in CanLit panel features local spoken-word poet Chimwemwe Undi, alongside University of Winnipeg professor Chigbo Arthur Anyaduba and playwright Amanda Parris, who won the 2019 Governor General’s Award in drama for her play The Other Side of the Game.

Undi says “Black writers are underrepresented in the media, and I think that the experience of Black writers is different, especially as Canada is so defined and shaped by white writers, when the most exciting and innovative work is coming from the Indigenous and Black writers in Canada. We’re a small percentage of the population, and we face a lot of racism but are also creating the most exciting work.”

Undi has faced racism in the Winnipeg literary community as well.

“When I was on (a) spoken-word team, there was a lot of appropriation of Black voices without prioritizing Black voices ... There’s a challenge to Black writers who are supposed to balance their art-making, which is the point of the writing, with educating people about racism and creating venues for their work and meeting people ... That can be really draining as an artist,” Undi says.

Tok Symposium will take place at the Manitoba Museum on Nov. 15 and 16. Writing While Black in Canlit is on Nov. 16 at 10:30 a.m. at the Manitoba Museum at 190 Rupert Ave. Tickets are free through Eventbrite.

Published in Volume 74, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 14, 2019)

Related Reads