5 books to celebrate Black Canadian literature

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: February 25, 2022 3:30 p.m.

Loan out one of these five fascinating reads by Canadian authors from the Dr. John Archer Library.
Loan out one of these five fascinating reads by Canadian authors from the Dr. John Archer Library. Photo: iStock

Dr. Barbara McNeil, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, is no stranger to the power of a good book. We sat down with Dr. McNeil to see what books and authors she recommends to celebrate Black Canadian authors or to learn more about the Black experience in Canada.

Visit the Dr. John Archer Library website to loan any of these titles.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis is the story of a group dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic who are given the gift of human consciousness and language. The novel explores human values such as individuality and personal freedom to convey the story of this special group of dogs as they navigate their newly-formed hierarchal society.

Alexis was born in Trinidad, grew up in Ottawa, and now lives in Toronto.

"Fifteen Dogs is a hit with our family and among our friends,"said McNeil. "It's laugh-out-loud funny and I have a smile on my face just thinking about it!"

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half-Blood Blues tells the story of Hiero, a Black German jazz musician who disappears at the hand of the Nazis during the Second World War. Fifty years later, Hiero's friend and former bandmate, Sid, struggles to come to terms with his friend's disappearance.

In addition to receiving nearly every Canadian literary award there is, Half-Blood Blues also received international praise by being named one of the best books of the year by Oprah and a New York Times Editor's Choice.

Book cover for Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Washington Black is Esi Edugyan's second Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel. HarperCollins

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Edugyan's third novel follows the life and adventures of George Washington "Wash"Black, who was born into slavery on Barbados before embarking on a journey with an unlikely companion along the eastern coast of America and beyond. Washington Black earned Edugyan her second Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2018.

"Both Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues are deeply loved by my family,"said McNeil. "Esi Edugyan is an extremely talented storyteller and I'm sure all fans of historical fiction will love her work."

Black Then: Blacks and Montreal, 1780s-1880s by Frank Mackey

Black Then tells thirty stories about the Black experience in and around Montreal between the last years of slavery and the early years of Confederation.

Based on original research, these stories bring to light a wealth of previously neglected information about the history of Black people in Canada.

"I consider this book to be essential reading for not only Black people, but for everyone wishing to be informed about Black experiences in that part of the country and the wider Black Canadian experience,"said McNeil.

"Mackey uses lively and informative storytelling to make visible early Black history in Montreal and I often re-read this book for strength."

The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole

Book cover for "The Skin We're In" by Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In was the top-selling book in Canada in 2020. Doubleday Canada

Desmond Cole is an activist, journalist, and author who received national attention in 2015 for his Toronto Life magazine cover story, which exposed the racism he experienced first-hand from the Toronto police through discriminatory practices like carding.

Canada's best-selling book of 2020, The Skin We're In chronicles Cole's personal experiences with activism and the struggle against racism across Canada throughout one year, 2017.

"This is a book of significance for all, but especially young Black men,"said McNeil. "I bought this book for my son because of its hopeful messages of resistance and empowerment for Black people in today's Canada."

The University has committed to creating a healthy campus community and learning environment in its 2020-25 strategic plan All Our Relations, or kahkiyaw kiwâhkômâkaninawak in Cree. Well-being and Belonging is one of the five Areas of Focus in the strategic plan, with three interconnected objectives below it: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Healthy Living; and Mental Health Literacy and Research.


12 courses you can take to incorporate Black history into your post-secondary education

Show and tell: Christian Mbanza puts the focus on celebrating Black history in the classroom

University of Regina signs Scarborough Charter committing to Black inclusion

From student to author: U of R Alumna brings story of Black Saskatchewan pioneer to life