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img550I finally took the time to unpack my suitcase this morning. I got back from St. Lucia on Saturday night, and immediately starting reaching out to some of the people I met at the ACLALS conference. Then I spent two days revising my paper, “‘All Land Is One Land Under the Sea’: Mapping Memory in Canada and the Caribbean,” so that I could submit it to Caribbean Quarterly. Now I’m working on my writing intensive syllabus and as soon as that’s done, I am going to FINISH writing Judah’s Tale. Yesterday I was pleased to receive copies of the latest issue of Canadian Children’s Book News; a couple of months ago, to my surprise, editor Gillian O’Reilly invited me to participate in a roundtable of African Canadian authors and illustrators, including Tololwa Mollel, Dirk McLean, Nicole Mortillaro, and Sean L. Moore. I was surprised to see so many Canadian scholars attending the St. Lucia conference and since I generally feel invisible to Canadians, I wanted them to know about my books and my scholarship on diversity in children’s literature. When I finished presenting my paper last week, St. Lucian poet Jane King came up and asked why I have such strong feelings about my country of origin. In my paper I confessed that “I seem unable to write or talk or even think about Canada without becoming bitter and, at times, irrationally enraged.” It’s hard to explain how I can recognize how privileged I am to have spent the first twenty years of my life in a progressive, wealthy country like Canada while simultaneously resenting the fact that nearly every door I’ve knocked on up there has remained closed. I’m heading to Toronto next month for the Word on the Street Festival and hope to coordinate a book event for young readers in my old neighborhood of East Scarborough. I’m keeping my expectations low, however, since previous efforts to pull this off have failed. For the roundtable I was asked why I self-published some of my books and my answer, of course, was: REJECTION! Yesterday img459I went looking for a file on my computer and stumbled across a folder *full* of query letters to Canadian publishers. I’m sure if I opened my file cabinet I’d find a stack of rejection letters from those same presses. And yet I still have moments when I wonder if I tried hard enough to make a go of it in Toronto, and I suppose that’s why I keep going back and why I continue to write about my frustration with the status quo. As I work on The Hummingbird’s Tongue I’ve been referring back to my first memoir, Stranger in the Family, and I still wonder why that book couldn’t find a publisher in Canada. I look at the literary landscape up north and it’s virtually impossible to find a novel or film or play that reflects my generation’s reality; there’s a fair amount of “back home” or “over there” and not a lot of “this is what it’s like for us HERE.” So much work to do…

Here’s a glimpse of the roundtable:

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gec_photoThis morning I received an invitation from George Elliott Clarke , Toronto’s Poet Laureate, to participate in the Canada Seminar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. George, who is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto, will be William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies and Canada Seminar Chair for the coming academic year.

The Canada Seminar examines Canadian social, economic, cultural, and political issues in their domestic and international dimensions. Presentations are made by public figures, scholars, artists, and experts in various fields to provide Harvard faculty and students, and the broader community, a look at Canadian scholarly and public life. It seeks to enhance the understanding of one of the United States’ closest allies and largest trading partners, and to provide a forum for the lively exchange of ideas on a wide range of issues. Because Canada and the United States must respond to similar economic and social challenges with distinctly different frameworks and historical legacies, the study of Canadian issues offers rich opportunities for scholars engaged in comparative studies. The seminar has presented numerous distinguished speakers including Canadian Supreme Court Justice Madame Rosalie Abella; political philosophers, Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka; Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario; and interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Honorable Bob Rae.

Needless to say, the lineup will look very different while George is at Harvard! My talk, “The (Revolving) Door of No Return: Memory, Migration, & Magical Thinking,” will take place on February 24, 2014.

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