This cold was probably caused by a virus; I gave four presentations last week, and there were lots of little sneezers running about. But illness is also about dis/ease, right? If you’re emotionally or spiritually unsettled, your immune system weakens, and next thing you know, you’re on the couch with a rapidly-dwindling box of tissue. Or maybe being sick makes you more inclined to look inward…either way, I’ve been casting my net over Canada—yet again—trying to find a way to generate interest in my work. Somewhere in the fog that is my mind I can still hear the white male reviewer at a small press who read my memoir and asked, “Occasionally I wondered why I should care about this individual – what makes her experiences so special that I would want to read about them?” No doubt today’s gatekeepers in the Great White North are asking themselves the exact same question…
This time last year, I wrote an abstract for a kidlit conference in Frankfurt; my paper was accepted, but then I left the academy and didn’t have a travel fund to pay for the trip. I think I need to write that essay. NOW.
“My, ain’t they black!” ~ Negotiating Blackness and Borders in Canadian Young Adult Novels
This paper will explore the relative absence of (and anxiety around) blackness in Canadian young adult novels, and the deployment of African American history as both a sign and substitute for racial struggle in “the Great White North.” Drawing upon Janet Lunn’s The Root Cellar (1985) and Harriet’s Daughter (1988) by Marlene Nourbese Phillip, I will contrast the authors’ narrative strategies: Lunn sends her white female protagonist, Rose, from the US into Canada, then moves her through time and back to the US during the Civil War in order for her to confront (enslaved) blacks; Phillip firmly situates her black female protagonist, Margaret, in Canada, yet uses African American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, as a way for the teen to engage in a conversation about race, freedom, and migration. Why must Lunn’s character leave Canada to confront blackness/slavery? Is border crossing and time travel a way for the author to avoid addressing the historical and/or contemporary reality of race relations in Canada (where slavery also existed)? Does Harriet’s Daughter really serve as a corrective to The Root Cellar if it also relies upon an (African) American heroine rather than one “native” to Canada? In the twenty years since these novels were published, has progress been made in the representation of blacks as active participants in Canada’s past, present, or future?
I’ve been querying kidlit presses up north, and so far all seem to publish YA novels set abroad—stories about black folks in Rwanda, Cuba, South Africa, Nigeria. Is this some kind of projection? A subconscious wish that the black folks IN Canada would magically return to their countries of origin? What about those of us for whom Canada IS our country of origin….time to write.