Giving the spotlight to BIPOC writers

by | Mar 16, 2021 | News

Canada’s Black history isn’t just about learning about dates and places.

“It encompasses identity, and heritage, and culture, and future,” said Rosemary Sadlier, a former president of the Ontario Black History Society.

Sadlier said many of last year’s anti-racism protests and events like George Floyd’s death were the main catalysts for books written by Canadian BIPOC writers to “fly off of the shelves.”

“I think that situation [Floyd’s death] has helped many people give consideration to what’s important,” she said, “I think it’s really a challenge to what we have always considered to be ‘normal.'”

Booknet Canada found that between November and December last year, book sales about race have increased by about 35 per cent, compared to a seven per cent decrease between September and October.

During the pandemic, many BIPOC writers were able to share their stories through their own voices and experiences.

“I try to write about the human experience through the lens of being black and male,” said Dwayne Morgan, a Black writer with the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Yolanda Marshall shows off her children's book.
Yolanda Marshall shows off one of her children’s books. She says people are becoming more aware of books written by BIPOC writers. (Courtesy Yolanda Marshall)

Other BIPOC authors from the Writers’ Union of Canada, like Yolanda Marshall, have also been able to publish and sell their books, especially if they were able to make the proper arrangements in advance of the pandemic.

“The timing was just on point,” Marshall said, “That timing has always been on point.”

She said some of these book sales are promoting more anti-racist titles and offering more cultural diversity to readers.

“It [does] have a bittersweet feeling because it’s out there and the climate that it’s in, it’s hard to explain,” she said.

Marshall said Canada’s “climate”, the current reality, especially towards racism and politics, forces people to pause and pay attention.

Though there is perhaps some more reason why this kind of recognition for BIPOC writers is only being made aware of right now.

“I think it’s taken this long is because when you have systematic racism, it’s very easy to be comfortable in your racism,” Morgan said.

Michael Fraser, an award winning poet and writer with the Writers’ Union of Canada, agrees, saying both new and experienced BIPOC writers are to be the vanguards against this kind of racism.

“True inclusivity means we’re seen as Canadian writers, not just Black Canadian writers,” he said, “So we’re truly a part of the society.”

Marshall, as well as other BIPOC writers, hope this kind of recognition, especially for newer writers, allows for their voices to be heard.

“There are always going to be glass ceilings,” Marshall said, “but you [have to] continue and perfect your art.”