Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing

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Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing, ed. Donna Bailey Nurse. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006. 384 pp. $29.99 sc.

The back cover of the newest anthology of black Canadian writing claims quite honestly to "celebrate one of our most vibrant, significant, and thriving literary communities, one that holds an increasingly important place within Canadian and contemporary world literature." The emphasis, though none is typographically indicated, should be on the here-and-nowness of the collection assembled between the bright red and black covers, for if Revival is nothing else, it is urgently contemporary. The oldest (and most anomalous) listed print date in the book belongs to Claire Harris's 1984 untitled haiku which opens the anthology--"in the prairie dawn/a pheasant calls to its mate/love go hide go hide" (p. 1)--while the newest is listed as Lorna Goodison's excerpt of From Harvey River, due out in early 2007. Given the lucky accident of Harris's geography and location, and given that all but one of the anthology's twenty-nine contributors remain active members of the living Canadian literary community, Revival immediately establishes itself as a viable and fresh point of entry into the tangible Canadian black writing scene of the new millennium.

Fortunately, the anthology's value to the casual reader, the aficionado, and the literary scholar extends far beyond its topicality. Editor Donna Bailey Nurse's selections (perhaps more than her self-conscious omissions) bring together a pastiche of genres, styles, vocabularies, and histories congruent with the identity-politics of what is often dangerously lumped together as "the African-Canadian experience." Notably lacking is the literary theatre community, hesitantly dismissed by the editor in her introduction on the grounds of "space, budget, and permissions" (p. xxii), though notably present are several dub poets and spoken-word artists previously ignored by earlier anthologists. Toronto performance poet and former radio personality Jemeni, for example, brings an unabashed directness to the collection that is elsewhere inlaid more reticently. She notes (not without legitimate bitterness) the distance at which black writers are held by the mainstream when she writes, "[u]nless of course it's February/Why then you'll even pay her for her tire./She's a walking talking eleven months of forgiveness for hire" (p. 348). Jemeni, along with fellow spoken word artist Motion and poets Shane Book and Wayde Compton, provides a biting edginess and beat that compliments the richly austere and intricate prose of writers like Ken Wiwa, Andre Alexis, and Tessa McWatt. To call Revival textured might inadequately touch upon the actual depth and breadth of the collection as a whole. …


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