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2020 Toronto Book Awards Longlist

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The 2020 Toronto Book Awards is underway with the jury reading furiously in advance of its longlist announcement on September 15. A winner will be announced on November 30 with an online ceremony in conjunction with program partner – Toronto Public Library. https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/awards-tributes/awards/toronto-book-awards/2020-toronto-book-awards
Frying Plantain

Frying Plantain

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

Set in the neighbourhood of “Little Jamaica,” Frying Plantain follows a girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation immigrants experiencing first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity in a predominantly white society.

Kara Davis is a girl caught in the middle — of her North American identity and her desire to be a “true” Jamaican, of her mother and grandmother’s rages and life lesso …

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From “Pig Head”
On my first visit to Jamaica I saw a pig’s severed head. My grandmother’s sister Auntie had asked me to grab two bottles of Ting from the icebox and when I walked into the kitchen and pulled up the icebox lid there it was, its blood splattered and frozen thick on the bottles beneath it, its brown tongue lolling out from between its clenched teeth, the tip making a small dip in the ice water.
My cousins were in the next room so I clamped my palm over my mouth to keep from screaming. They were all my age or younger, and during the five days I’d already been in Hanover they’d all spoken easily about the chickens they strangled for soup and they’d idly thrown stones at alligators for sport, side-eyeing me when I was too afraid to join in. I wanted to avoid a repeat of those looks, so I bit down on my finger to push the scream back down my throat.
Only two days before I’d squealed when Rodney, who was ten like me, had wrung a chicken’s neck without warning; the jerk of his hands and the quick snap of the bone had made me fall back against the coops behind me. He turned to me after I’d silenced myself and his mouth and nose were twisted up as if he was deciding whether he was irritated with me or contemptuous or just amused.
“Ah wah?” he asked. “Yuh nuh cook soup in Canada?”
“Sure we do,” I said, my voice a mumble. “The chicken is just dead first.”
He didn’t respond, and he didn’t say anything about it in front of our other cousins, but soon after they all treated me with a newfound delicacy. When the girls played Dandy Shandy with their friends they stopped asking me to be in the middle and when all of them climbed trees to pluck ripe mangoes, they no longer hung, loose-limbed, from the branches and tried to convince me to clamber up and join them. For the first three days of my visit, they’d at least tease me, broad smiles stretching their cheeks, and yell down, “This tree frighten yuh like how duppy frighten yuh?” Then they’d let leaves fall from their hands onto my hair and laugh when I tried to pick them out of my plaits. I’d fuss and grumble, piqued at the taunting but grateful for the inclusion, for being thought tough enough to handle the same mockery they inflicted on each other. But after the chicken, they didn’t goad me anymore and they only approached me for games like tag, for games they thought Canadian girls could stomach.
“What’s taking you so long?” My mother came up behind me and instead of waiting for me to answer, leaned forward and peered into the icebox, swallowing hard as she did. “Great,” she whispered. “Are you going to be traumatized by this?”
I didn’t quite know what she meant — but I felt like the right answer was no, so I shook my head. My mother was like my cousins. I hadn’t seen her butcher any animals, but back home she stepped on spiders without flinching, she cussed out men who tried to reach for her in the street, and I couldn’t bear her scoffing at me for screaming at a pig’s head.
“Eloise!” Nana called. My grandmother came into the kitchen from the backyard and stood next to us, her hands on her hips. The deep arch in her back made her breasts and belly protrude, and the way she stood with her legs apart reminded me of a pigeon.
“I hear Auntie call out she want a drink from the fridge. That there is the freezer yuh nuh want that. Yuh know wah Bredda put in there? Kara canna see that, she nuh raise up for it.”
“I closed the lid,” said my mother. “Anyway, it was a pig’s head. It’s not like she saw the pig get slaughtered. She’s fine.”
“Kara’s a soft one. She canna handle these things.”
I felt my mother take a deep breath in and I suddenly became aware of all the exposed knives in the kitchen and wondered if there was any way I could hide them without being noticed. We were only here for ten days and my mother and Nana had already gotten into two fights — one in the airport on the day we landed, the other two nights after — and Auntie had threatened to set the dogs on them if they didn’t calm down.
“Mi thought Canada was supposed fi be a civilized place, how yuh two fight like the dogs them? Cha.”
I wondered if all daughters fought with their mothers this way when they grew up and started to tear up just thinking about it. Nana looked at me.
“See? She ah cry about the head.”
“It’s not about the head,” said my mother. “She just cries over anything.”
“Like I say. She a soft chile.”

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The Skin We're In

The Skin We're In

A Year of Black Resistance and Power
edition:Hardcover

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A bracing, provocative, and perspective-shifting book from one of Canada's most celebrated and uncompromising writers, Desmond Cole. The Skin We're In will spark a national conversation, influence policy, and inspire activists.

In his 2015 cover story for Toronto Life magazine, Desmond Cole exposed the racist actions of the Toronto police force, detailing the dozens of times he had been stopped and interrogated under the controversial practice of carding. The story quickly ca …

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The Missing Millionaire

The Missing Millionaire

The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

In December 1919, Ambrose Small, the mercurial owner of the Grand Opera House in Toronto, closed a deal to sell his network of Ontario theatres, deposited a million-dollar cheque in his bank account, and was never seen again. As weeks turned to years, the disappearance became the most "extraordinary unsolved mystery" of its time. Everything about the sensational case would be called into question in the decades to come, including the motivations of his inner circle, his enemies, and the police …

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Excerpt

PREFACE
 
TORONTO, 2019

Ambrose Small’s city is still here in pieces. You can find his mansion on a leafy Rosedale street or walk by the trio of skyscrapers he knew so well at King and Yonge. In his day, they were a source of civic pride, among the tallest buildings in the British Empire, and they housed banks and railway offices. A century later, one is a hotel, while the other two are office towers filled with financiers and lawyers, with a mattress shop and pharmacy at street level. His theatre on Adelaide Street was torn down before the Depression, and now there is a glass banking tower in its place, a building so tall that no matter where you are, there it is, pointing to the spot where the story begins. The Grand Opera House.

Ambrose Small knew everyone had secrets. People might say they liked highbrow theatre, but he knew they’d be happy enough to sit in a dark room with a thousand strangers watch­ing a pair of likeable goofs singing ditties of the old country. As the ringmaster of one of Canada’s most powerful theatre networks—headquartered at the Grand Opera House—Small made his millions by catering to humanity’s desire for cheap escape. In 1919, when he was fifty-three years old, he sold it all for $1.75 million. The next day, he vanished from the theatre, never to be seen again.

The people who knew what that Toronto felt like, what it sounded and smelled like, are nearly all gone. The horse manure, coal dust, and factories have disappeared too, but the lilacs and chestnut trees bloom every spring, and the sewer pipes still snake below the ground, so ancient that they sometimes rupture, the past bubbling to the surface. But never Ambrose. Never the solu­tion to the mystery.

If he had been nicer, a theatre critic once said, maybe they would have looked harder for him. A hundred years have hardened the image of Ambrose Small into a vengeful, petty businessman—and he was that, certainly—but there are details buried in newspaper stories that make him seem more of a human being and less of a caricature. He had trouble sleeping. He had a hangnail problem.
Ambrose didn’t crave the spotlight like the actors on his stage. He built hidden rooms at his theatres, paid for indiscre­tions with secret accounts, refused to open his books when he was sued, and grew richer on backroom bets that left no trace.

Like any good theatre man, he knew that audiences love a mystery. When I imagine Ambrose Small, he is laughing at me for thinking I could know him, for thinking I can know how this ends, for thinking this ever ends.

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The Subtweet

The Subtweet

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback eBook Audiobook

 

“A timely and compelling look at internet fame and how fickle it really is.… You’ll likely devour it in one sitting.” — Ms. Magazine

Includes an exclusive free soundtrack

Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a no-holds-barred examination of the music industry, social media, and making art in the modern era, shining a light on the promise and peril of being seen.

Indie musician Neela Devaki has built a career writing the songs she wants to hear but nobody e …

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Neela Devaki was an original.

 

She was reminded of this fact shortly after she stepped out of her cab and into the Fairmont Hotel, the main site for the North by Northeast Festival. Zipping through the masses of musicians, fans and industry reps, she felt sorry for the chandeliers, which loomed above like golden flying saucers, forced to light up the dull networking that buzzed beneath them. But a conversation between two art students, draped in curated thrift wear featuring strategically placed rips and holes, brought Neela to a reluctant halt. 

 

“I was totally working on something like this for my final project. I guess originality really is dead,” one of the women sighed, taking photos of herself, duck-faced with a pop-up art installation.

 

Neela skimmed the artist’s statement. The frosted toothpick statues of penises were “a comment on the current global epidemic of white demasculinization.” Why not just hang a red and white flag that said Make Art Great Again? Brevity was the true endangered species.

 

“You should still do it. All the good ideas are taken anyways. Isn’t that kind of freeing?” replied the other.

 

Neela snorted. She would never offer that sort of “comfort” to a stunted peer. No wonder she was bored with most of the art she encountered.

 

She considered sharing with these young women that she always knew she was on the verge of invention at the precise moment when originality felt impossible. That instead of surrendering to despair, she would needle in and out and through her brain until an idea surfaced — naked, stripped of predictability and familiarity. That this process often required her to sing a phrase over and over for hours until the syllables carved their own unique melody out of hollow air. She was certain that the reiteration planted the words in her vocal chords so that when she sang them, they carried the imprint of her body. By embedding herself into her song, she muted any risk of passing off mimicry as art. Why wasn’t fully committing to creation more desirable than observing what everyone else was doing and doing the same?

 

But defending the sanctity of originality to strangers at an art exhibit would make her seem like an egomaniac. And no one listens to a cocksure woman.

 

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We Have Always Been Here

We Have Always Been Here

A Queer Muslim Memoir
edition:Paperback

CANADA READS 2020 WINNER
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
2020 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD WINNER
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family c …

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Sonia and I were the same age and instantly liked each other. She had a mischievous way about her that pulled me in. She always smelled of oranges, her fingers sticky from sucking on slices of the fruit as the juices dripped down her chin and hands. She left a trail of orange peels everywhere she went. I was in awe of her pin-straight hair that could do anything she wanted it to but mostly rested on her shoulders, two vertical lines framing her gamine face. Mine was curly and unruly, and my mother insisted on having it fashioned into an unflattering bowl cut. Since I was no longer allowed to go outside or visit friends without my parents chaperoning, much of our playing happened at our house. Sonia never asked why—I just let her believe it was because my parents were extremely religious. When we weren’t building blanket forts, we spent afternoons on the veranda flashing everyone who walked by, spreading our legs wide open and exposing our vaginas, breaking out into peals of laughter with each look of horror we received.
 
Some days, Sonia wanted to play doctor. She’d pull down her pants and ask me to give her an injection, and I’d pretend to inject her warm skin with a piece of chalk, its tip pointy and startlingly cold. The chalky imprint of my hand would remain on her bum as she pulled up her pants, laughing. We’d often play in the musty, abandoned room on the second floor above our unit that was full of discarded furniture and yards of fabric my mother had purchased to bring to Sonia’s mother. One day, when I suggested we tell each other stories instead of playing doctor, she began to tell me a dirty tale of two lovers, Idris and Sahar, who undressed in front of each other—but she abruptly ended the story just when my heart started racing with anticipation. I needed to know what happened next.
 
“I have to go,” she blurted. “Next time!” She patted my mop of curls and grabbed her backpack, flashing me an impish smile on her way out the door.
 
For days, I waited for her to come back and finish the story. A week went by. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I told my parents I was going to visit Sonia, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed to venture out unaccompanied. When they prodded, I recounted the whole sordid story. As expected, my parents told Sonia’s parents that she wasn’t allowed to visit our house ever again.
 
It was nearing four o’clock and my mother still had to pick up a cake before the guests arrived and my dad came home from work. She asked Pinky to keep an eye on my sisters and me so that she could run some errands and swing by the bakery. She knew how much I loved the dense, spongy cake soaked in rosewater and layered with thick cream and ripe fruit. As she opened the door, the smell of burning tires infiltrated the hallway. Without giving it much thought, she headed out the door, the smell lingering in the air. After all, the birthday would be incomplete without the cake.
 
The bakery was only ten minutes away, so we were worried when an hour went by and neither my mother nor my father had come home. When my mother finally showed up, she had with her Osman and his mother, along with five other Shia families from the street. Sunni and Shia conflicts had erupted throughout Lahore, and my mother had gathered this band of strangers together and offered temporary refuge from the rioting in the streets. As Ahmadis, we were the only family in the neighbourhood to be spared the wrath of Sunni extremists. For once, the target wasn’t us.
 
The cause of the conflict goes back some fourteen hundred years. Immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the two sects clashed over who his successor should be. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful successor, whereas Sunnis argue that it was Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s trusted advisor. Centuries of bloodshed have followed. Shias claim that Sunnis have received preferential treatment from the Pakistani government since 1948, soon after Pakistan was founded, and that their freedom of speech is consistently threatened. Around the time of my birthday, things had gotten particularly violent after the assassination of Arif Hussain Hussaini, founding leader of Tehrik-e-Jafaria, a religious organization that represented the Shias.
 
Amid all the mayhem, I marvelled at how my mother had managed to find a cake when all the shops were either closed or vandalized. I was even more shocked that she had made it home safe, unaffected by the tear gas or the rioters who were setting fire to everything in sight, the thick fumes permeating our house through the roofless courtyard where everyone had gathered. To a seven-year-old, it seemed the world was coming to an end. If my mother was panicked that my father was still not home, she certainly didn’t let it show.
 
I looked at Osman, who had taken refuge under his mother’s arm and was pressing his nose against it. There were other children, too—some my age or younger, some old enough to require a burka to hide the curves of their bodies. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that this time it wasn’t us. But the fear I witnessed was intensely familiar. Who belonged if none of us did? I had never felt as close to Shias as I did that day.
 
My mother, perhaps opting for a distraction, removed the wrapping from the cake and placed it on the dining table. Pinky heated a pot of goat’s milk for chai and poured it into eight terracotta cups. The smell of cardamom temporarily replaced the pungent odour of burning cars.
 
When the phone rang, my mother almost dropped the tray of pakoras and ran toward it. “Kee haal hai?”—How are you?—she asked ironically, knowing my father was probably plotting how to get home safely while police had blocked off access to our street. She spoke in Punjabi, the language my parents used when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, not realizing we’d picked it up over the years.
 
We were startled by a flurry of loud knocks on the front door and the voices on the other side demanding that we open it. We all knew that the men outside were after the Shias hiding in our house. My mother hung up the phone and, with the help of the other women, pushed a heavy cupboard full of china and ceramics in front of the door. As the thumping persisted, she silently lit the candles on the cake, one for each of my seven years. Taking our cue from her calm demeanour, we all gathered around the table as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the noise in the background, I blew out the candles. My mother carefully plated each dish with an equal slice of cake, pakoras, and chaat and handed them to everyone in our house.
 
Soon it was time for Maghrib prayer. Pinky and the other women lined the concrete floor with bedsheets, and we Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people.
 
The knocks eventually stopped and we wondered if the riots had too. Then we heard a heavy thud on the roof. We all lifted our heads in panic, and mothers tightly clutched their children. Then my dad emerged from the top floor, climbing down the stairs to the courtyard. Eager to unite with us, he had scaled the wall of a house at the end of our street and jumped between the rooftops until he reached ours. I had never in my life been happier to see him.

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In the Beggarly Style of Imitation

In the Beggarly Style of Imitation

edition:Paperback

Born on the twin backs of torpidity and obsession, In the Beggarly Style of Imitation is a voyage into the mind of one of the Canadian literary underground’s most unruly writers. Equal parts tribute to the historical genesis of the novel and the well-trodden subject of love, the exercises of imitation contained in this collection offer a brief survey through the illustrious forms and genres of literary expression: epistolary, aphorism, essay, picaresque, romance and satire culminate in a celeb …

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Artistic Glass

Artistic Glass

One Studio and Fifty Years of Stained Glass
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

 

Celebrating 50 years of a master craftsman

Arts and crafts help define a culture; they reflect people’s values, beliefs, and the things they hold dear. Artistic Glass: One Studio and Fifty Years of Stained Glass is the first of its kind: a full-color large format art book contextualizing the history of stained glass in Canada and showcasing the life and work of Josef Aigner, an artist and master craftsman whose 50-year career has had a lasting impact on the Canadian art landscape.

Written and p …

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Shame on Me

Shame on Me

An Anatomy of Race and Belonging
edition:Paperback

Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction.

Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body--nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones and blood--which holds up a mirror to t …

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Excerpt

“What Are You?” 
The ducklings liked the new island so much that they decided to live there. All day long they follow the swan boats and eat peanuts. 

Eight years old, I am sitting near the back of the room in the grade-three classroom of my suburban Toronto elementary school. My desk is close to the window, and I am easily distracted by the birds; one particular bird preens itself on a branch, its feathers shuttering up and down. I am not paying much attention to what the teacher is saying. We’ve been reading a book out loud together and I haven’t been asked to read. I feel off the hook, set free to daydream. A few minutes into daydreaming, I feel a change of tone in the teacher’s voice and the class goes quiet. I snap out of my reverie. There’s a question in the air. I look around at my classmates, who are looking at each other in search of an answer.

“Anyone know what that word means?” the teacher says. 

Oh, I think, I’d better pay attention because there’s a new word and I will need to know it.

“Does anyone know what Negro means?”

Good question, I think. What does that mean? I continue to look around at my classmates to see if anyone is going to come up with the answer or even a guess. The teacher seems anxious; this word has weight. Kenneth Percy puts up his hand. The teacher invites him to speak.

“Yeah, Tessa,” he says, as he points towards me at the back of the room.

Everyone in the class turns to face me. I freeze, my mind goes blank and all that is going on in my body is a low fizz like a misfiring electric circuit.

As I now realize, my teacher tries to rescue me from something she herself sees as a slur, a word that is fine in a book but not in person. “Oh no, not Tessa,” she says, to comfort me and all who might worry about what is in their midst. The other kids continue to stare at me.

Doing her job as the class’s moral compass, she thinks fast: “No, Tessa’s something else.”

The misfiring electric circuit spews shocks through my cheeks, my arms and my legs, which begin to shake.

“What are you, Tessa?”

What am I?
I have no idea what she’s asking. I feel as if I’ve failed a major test. I should have been paying attention, I should know how to answer this.

“You know, people are certain things,” she says, still trying to help, but wounding me deeper and deeper with every second she allows the class’s eyes to remain on me. “Things like, say, Mexican . . .” She waits, but I have nothing. “Brazilian . . . Filipino . . .” she carries on, offering possibilities she sees in my face, but in that moment I hear only words that describe all the things that everyone else in the room isn’t.

She waits, the circuit hums and it becomes so unbearable that I fold my arms on the desk and put my head onto them. I go away, deep inside myself. I don’t remember where I go or for how long, but when I look up again everyone in the class has gone to recess and the teacher is wiping the board. She doesn’t try to speak to me as I get up from my desk and leave the room, heavier now, saddled with something corrosive.

There, with my head in my arms, I learned that I could disappear; I could become invisible. I wondered why the teacher had not asked anyone else in the class the question, why my best friend didn’t have to answer it. I kept these questions and my invisibility to myself.

I understood, without being able to articulate it, that language had the power to change me completely with the utterance of one word. I had known what black was—our extended family and friends were an array of shades—and I had known where I was from, but that wasn’t what I had been asked. Negro was a word like species, a scientific word that clever people knew, but I didn’t. I began to pay attention to the power of words. In being asked what I was and realizing I did not know, I set off to find out. I believe it was the moment I became a writer. 

Images visit me now as the sun sinks below the north London rooftops in Kilburn, where I sit at my desk, thinking about shame. They come in flashes like newsreels from the past.

There is my Chinese grandmother, running from rape. She is running also because she comes from a family of people who have running away in their DNA. Born to Chinese parents who had arrived in British Guiana from Hong Kong towards the end of the nineteenth century, my grandmother’s family had escaped the Sino-Japanese War, after a different uncle, a dentist, had been strapped to his own dentist’s chair and shot in the head by a Japanese soldier.

When I imagine my grandmother as a young woman, she is running.

My mother gave me the story of her mother’s rape when I was a teenager. “Granny ran away from the countryside,” she said, and nearly whispered the rest. I assumed it was her way of warning me about the perils of being a woman, as she had warned me about so many perils as a child. But it was the running and not the rape that stayed with me. I wanted to run towards something that was mine, like most teenagers do, and I wanted to understand what to do with all the words in constant motion in my mind. My mother often let slip nuggets of family history that were at times uncomfortable, at other times mysterious and poetic, and at still other times so distant and unreachable that they could only become myth. She had no way of knowing that she was feeding a writer, and I had no way of knowing what truths she was avoiding or concocting.

Like most families, mine is steeped in the anecdotes of grandparents and parents who recount their histories through the lens of desire, aspiration, loss and shame. We Caribbean families rely heavily on oral histories because we come from ruptured roots, transplantation and whispered heritages related to slavery and colonialism. For substantial strands of my ancestry, there are no solid family trees or traceable lineages. So there’s no knowing for sure where, when or why my ancestors fled or were forcibly taken, or how they arrived in what officially became British Guiana in 1831. 

Of course there are the grandparents I knew, and many uncles and aunts, both blood-related and not, but I can only imagine those who went before them. I know from stories that my ancestry includes Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese forebears. And there are rumours of hidden bloodlines—that possible French Jew.

My Indian ancestor’s journey from the subcontinent might be one of those documented in the log books of governors and plantation overseers as they procured indentured labour for the colony. There was a scarcity of women. Slavery had been abolished; she was “precious cargo,” arriving on a boat that carried 244 Indians, 233 of whom were men, six of them children, and only four other women. I imagine she resisted it, but necessity won out, and she was forced to bed the overseer to secure the chance of early freedom from her indenture contract.

Other stories bear the weight of secrets, like smuggled Portuguese lace, and they must never be openly mentioned. But some are playful and dance with the tropical light.

My Indigenous great-great-grandmother was described to me by my mother as a “buck” (“My daddy’s family had buck in dem,” she would say), a word that obscures the proper names of peoples—Arawak, Warrau, Arecuna, Akawaio, Patamona, Wapishana. Buck in the way my mother said it meant a wild thing, a man with a spear, a woman free to roam the jungle. I imagine this woman content, alone in her corial. When I paddle a canoe on a lake in Ontario—bounded only by the earth, sky and water, while wildlife plays and hunts in the shadows along the shore—I am like her.

The Scottish McWatt of my surname and the English Eyre of my mother’s side are my links to Europe. I had once imagined that I was secretly related to the Jane of my favourite book. But names themselves are unreliable. McWatt or Eyre might have been names my ancestors took to anglicize or legitimize themselves in a former slave colony. Whispers and shadows: a longing to belong to the mainstream of a new place after the rupture from their places of origin.

It’s my African ancestor—my great-great-grandmother—on whom I focus my imagination. She is the gap in my family’s storytelling that I need to fill, though I can’t trace her precise roots in Africa. Hers is the story that has been buried deepest, most painfully ignored. Hers is the story that bears such deep shame that it has been erased. But the body is a site of memory. If race is made by erecting borders, my body is a crossing, a hybrid many times over. My black and white and brown and yellow and red body is stateless, is chaos. Her body is stolen territory.

I am the result of the movement of bodies on ships: as captains, as cargo, as indentured servants, as people full of hope for a chance of survival. I also come from people nearly annihilated by those who arrived. Guyana, formerly British Guiana, a territory won by the British from Dutch and French treaties of war in the early 1800s, is the only English-speaking country in mainland South America. It is culturally Caribbean but geographically continental. Its pulsing river arteries connect mountains, savannah, rainforests and coastal plains. It is a land of jaguars, tapirs, giant anteaters, otters, monkeys and capybaras, and it has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. It is a land fought over for its natural resources, and its colonial history is a story that relies on ships from Europe, Africa, India and China, along with the dug-out corials of the Indigenous peoples. The paddles, the sails, the winches, the shackles. 

My ancestry centres on one crop: sugar. My history pulses with moments of miscegenation, a hybridity that eludes any box I am asked to tick on census papers or job applications.

I am a song of sugar.

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