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Essential Canadiana

A recommended reading list by the editor of Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon: The Autobiography of Dr. Howard D. McCurdy.

Book Cover Black Activist

Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon: The Autobiography of Dr. Howawrd D. McCurdy is up for giveaway until the end of February.

Head over to our giveaway page for your chance to win and to check out everything we've got for giveaway right now.


"Dr. Howard McCurdy is the author of this autobiography. Period," writes George Elliott Clarke in the introduction to Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon. "But in July 2017, seven months before his decease, he requested that I edit this work, which was already progressing toward a conclusion."

In this recommended reading list, Clarke shares other essential Canadian books.


Book Cover Consecrated Ground

Consecrated Ground, by George Boyd

A play dealing with the slo-mo destruction of Africville, the Black hamlet that the City of Halifax taxed, polluted, and bulldozed to the ground, 1964-1970, though the village had existed at least since 1815. It's a tragedy setting Black citizenship against those "evil, genital-cutting bastards" that is the alliance between Caucasian Christianity, Caucasian capital, and Caucasian college kids.


Book Cover Where the Sun Shines Best

Where the Sun Shines Best, by Austin C. Clarke

A novella-in-poetry based on a true murder of a Toronto "homeless" man by three Canadian soldiers about to be dispatched to Afghanistan—to kill and/or be killed. The late novelist started out as a poet, and he returns to poetry in this tour-de-force which reminds all that the trained killers (the soldiers) had only carried out their training: To oppress the poor, the coloured, the marginalized on behalf of capital, racism, homophobia, and White Supremacist imperialism.


Book Cover Violence in the Arts

Violence in the Arts, by John Fraser

Not to be confused with the bow-tied, ex-Globe-and-Mail- man-in-Beijing, THE John Fraser was likely the most adept critical intellectual that English Canada was ever able to host. From the real Cambridge (not the knock-off suburb of Boston), THE John Fraser takes on the thorny problem of how to critique violence in ALL the arts—literature, film, comic books, paintings, theatre, etc. His examples range from Homer and Sophocles to Household and Sade, and from Peckinpah to Pontecorvo, with even some attention paid to Black Panthers and biker gangs. We celebrate Frye and McLuhan—and we MUST. But it's time to set THE John Fraser amid that canon. He is never less than lucid; he is never less than right.


Book Cover Lament for a Nation

Lament for a Nation, by George Grant

The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Only in Canada could a philosophical, pessimistic polemic about the extinguishing of Canadian sovereignty, starring Dief-the-Chief as its hero, be a bestseller. It's also a short guide to the positives of the marvellous Canadian oxymoron: The Red Tory.


Book Cover Two Innocents in Red China

Two Innocents in Red China, by Jacques Hebert and Pierre Elliott Trudeau

A very witty and insightful travelogue about a visit to Beijing in October 1960, wherein PET met Mao Zedong (again) and went out dancing drunkenly all night with every Chinese maiden that he encountered. Beautiful—and a proper defence of self-determination and anti-McCarthyism.... Way better than the Adams opera, Nixon in China!


Book Cover How to make Love to a Negro

How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, by Dany LaFerriere

This satirical novel deals with a marginalized Black immigrant in Montreal who figures that his best bet for fame-and-fortune is to bed McGill Anglo gals and then to write almost-porn about his sexual encounters—knowing that this will titillate Quebecois nationalists overjoyed to read about a Black francophone diddling White bourgeois English gals. The novel delights in shattering taboos and being outrageous, and so is still a must-read almost 40 years after its debut.


Book Cover Civil Elegies

Civil Elegies, by Dennis Lee

A George Grant-influenced book of poetry that also argues that Canada has sold its soul to the blankety-blank corporations, happy to make money by making the napalm that the Yanks are dropping on the Vietnamese. It's a Canuck version of Emile Zola's J'Accuse...! (1898), except that it's written in poetry; it is, really, an essay-in-poetry—a polemic in vers libere....  Both inimitable and imperishable.


Book Cover An Introduction to the Introduction

An Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei, by Pain Not Bread

This book of poetry is the brainchild of artist Andy Patton and poets Kim Maltman and Roo Borson. It is an excellent mash-up of Tang Dynasty-style poetry and the most abstract and obtuse lingo of the highfalutin deconstructionists, yet somehow resulting (occasionally) in poetry of the most piercing Beauty.  (The title is inspired by "Death-of-the-author," lit-crit star Roland Barthes—who was killed by a Paris bread truck—i.e., a truck of pain.)


Book Cover Harlem DUet

Harlem Duet, by Djanet Sears

An audacious prequel to Shakespeare's Othello in which Sears explains the Moor's tragic end in Shakespeare's play by arguing that he was cursed—cussed out and dissed—by his first Black wife who became lethally jealous once she learned that "Thello" was dumping her for "une blonde"—"Mona"! Sears juxtaposes brilliantly the tension between "free love" and the preservation of cultures and gene pools.


Book Cover John Thompson

Collected Poems and Translations, by John Thompson

The most influential Maritime poet of the latter half of the last century, the enigmatic Welsh bard was one- part cliche (a drunkard genius) and one-part unique eccentric (a genius in a lumberjack jacket), who knocked around Mount Alison University in Sackville, NB, with a firearm in one hand and a bottle of Keith's (or "Keats") in the other. His ghazal-style verses are absolutely haunting, and have influenced everyone from Mike Ondaatje to P.K. Page, from Brian Bartlett to Phyllis Webb.


Book Cover Black Activist

Learn more about Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon:

The long-overdue biography of one of Canada's most iconic Black politicians and activists, written with the country's former Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

McCurdy passed away in February 2018, and with the encouragement of McCurdy's widow, Clarke took on the challenge of editing and completing the memoir. Fortunately, says Clarke, "The man can write, good people!... Howard delighted in the extemporaneous peroration, which, issuing in electrifying combustion out of heart and head, had audiences...presenting standing ovations so often that their chair seats never had a chance to warm."

McCurdy indeed lived an extraordinary life. He was Canada's first Black tenured professor; a founder of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; a founder of the National Black Coalition of Canada; the person who named the New Democratic Party; the second Black elected to Parliament.

With twenty-five photos from McCurdy's personal archive, Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon illuminates and celebrates the life of one of Canada's most worthy figures. Says Clarke: "Dr. Howard McCurdy was exemplary in self-sacrifice; he was stellar in avant-garde thought and vision; he was...the most unforgettably proud Black man that I ever had the pleasure to know."

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