Tribute to a Twentieth Century Black Canadian Writer: The Legacy of Lorris Elliott

By Joyette, Anthony | Kola, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview
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Tribute to a Twentieth Century Black Canadian Writer: The Legacy of Lorris Elliott


Joyette, Anthony, Kola


Lorris I. Elliott was one of Canada's well-known Black writers. He died quietly last summer (1999), after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. In his passing he left a legacy from which black artists, educators and students may understand the importance of their role and the role of art, in particular writers and their writing in the development of a black Canadian thought. The essence of his ideas expressed the institutionalization of writing by black authors. His contribution may not read in volumes, but its value is a significant part of black Canadian literature today. In the profoundest sense, he created the stage for the contemporary black Canadian voice.

I knew very little of Lorris Elliott the person. What I know of him is from his writings and the impact of the McGill conference of 1980, "The Black Artist in the Canadian Milieu." Elliott did three very important things for black Canadian writing: He set the stage for the development of a racial consciousness in Black Canadian thought, through the integration of native and naturalized Canadian writers. He redefined the boundaries of racial space in black Canadian writing and he introduced black Canadian writing to a wider audience and respectability.

I first came into contact with Lorris Elliott while he was coordinating the McGill conference. We briefly spoke on the phone about the conference and possibilities of my participation. This conference was a scholarly collaboration. Black academics from across Canada representing various disciplines of study converged at McGill University to exchange divergent theories about black creativity in Canada. I met him in person for the first time in 1983, when our paths crossed briefly. He was also a guest of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal Inc., invited by "Alfie" Roberts the General Secretary of the organization to have a book signing at the opening of the organization's annual art and book exhibition.

The event held at the Cote-des-Neiges House of Culture. We met again in 1984. He was the guest speaker at the association's second annual exhibition held at the same venue as the previous year. This was a memorable moment. We talked about The Germination Of Feeling my first collection of poems after which he asked permission to include a couple of the poems in an anthology he was working on. This I agreed too with delight. I felt counted among the writers in the Diaspora. A few months later I received a letter from his publisher advising me that Other Voices an anthology of writing by black writers in Canada, edited by Lorris Elliott would be released the following year. One of our last meetings was at a private showing of my paintings in 1986. Our meetings were always brief and somewhat unexpected, but in those brief moments we would share ideas about writing by blacks in Canada.

In the late seventies early eighties, Lorris Elliott opened the window on Black Canadian creativity supported by the office of the Secretary of State, Department of Multiculturalism, and the McGill Graduate Studies and Research Faculty. He began to explore the presence of black Canadian creativity giving body to and expanding the notion of a "collective consciousness" first mentioned by Harold Head (Introduction: Canada In Us Now, 1996).

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