Dionne Brand – Poet, Writer, Educator, and Activist
Dionne Brand, poet, writer, filmmaker, educator and activist (born 7 January 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad). Winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize, and former poet laureate of Toronto, Dionne Brand is considered one of Canada’s most accomplished poetic voices.
Dionne Brand moved to Toronto in 1970 and attended the University of Toronto (BA, English and Philosophy) and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (MA, Philosophy of Education). She has published poetry, fiction, essays and other writings, in addition to teaching literature, creative writing and women’s studies at various universities in Canada and the United States. She is also an influential human rights activist.
Dionne Brand is best known for her poetry, of which she has published several volumes, including Land to Light On (1997), which won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry; Thirsty (2002), which won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award; Inventory (2006); and Ossuaries (2010), which won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her poetry is characterized by formal and linguistic experimentation in her endeavor to articulate with honesty and passion the experience of an immigrant woman of color in Canada.
In her well-known long poem “No Language Is Neutral” (1990), Brand meditates on her “escape” from Trinidad to Canada, where language can be just as enslaving and where her history is just as obscured by the typically white, male and heterosexual master narratives of others: “History will only hear you if you give birth to a / woman who smoothes starched linen in the wardrobe / drawer,” she writes, “and who gives birth to a woman who is a / poet, and, even then.” Accordingly, Brand’s work challenges attempts to stabilize and fix boundaries of identity, whether personal or national.
Brand’s fiction includes the short-story collection Sans Souci and Other Stories (1989) and the novels At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999) and What We All Long For (2005), which won the Toronto Book Award for its charged, challenging and lyrical examination of belonging in a multicultural city, and Love Enough (2014). Her first novel, In Another Place, Not Here (1996; New York Times Notable Book 1998), tells the story of two Caribbean women, one who wishes to escape from the islands to the city to attain a life of independence, and the other who returns to the islands from Toronto to effect political change. Both women long to be “in another place, not here.” Their mutual feelings of cultural displacement bring them together, for a time, as lovers. Like her poetry, much of Brand’s fiction is lyrical and rhetorically innovative, full of sumptuous imagery and vivid evocations of her protagonists’ wide range of experiences and emotional states.
Dionne Brand is also a prolific writer of non-fiction, including No Burden to Carry (1991), a book of oral histories of Black women in Ontario, Bread Out of Stone (1994), a book of critical essays on gender and race issues in Canada, and A Map to the Door of No Return (2001), a self-reflexive meditation on memory, identity and the history of the African diaspora. For Brand, “the Door of No Return” is a “fissure between the past and the present,” a place where her ancestors departed “the Old World for the New.” The book is her attempt to draw a “map” of that unchartered territory, to “explore” her ancestry as a woman of color in Canada.
In addition to her contributions to dozens of anthologies and journals, Brand has also written or co-directed films for the National Film Board of Canada, including Older, Stronger, Wiser (1989) and Sisters in the Struggle (1991), portraits of influential Canadian women of color. She is also a committed social activist, critiquing economic and political power structures and speaking out against racism, discrimination against women, and discrimination against gay and lesbian communities (see Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada ). Among other projects, she has worked as a counselor at the Toronto Immigrant Women’s Centre, and she is a founding member of Our Lives, Canada’s first newspaper devoted to Black women.
Dionne Brand has taught literature and creative writing in Ontario and British Columbia. She has also been a Distinguished Visiting Professor at St. Lawrence University in New York and has held the Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair in Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She currently holds a University Research Chair in English and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2006 and appointed poet laureate of Toronto in 2009.
* Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/black-canadians.html
* The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/dionne-brand/
2 thoughts on “Black History Month In Canada… Dionne Brand”
“…where language can be just as enslaving and where her history is just as obscured by the typically white, male and heterosexual master narratives of others…”
I’ve heard that sentiment on so many blogs lately. That idea of language enslaving a person really bears a closer look in our world, I think. It makes me wonder what words enslave me. Would make an interesting question. May use that on my blog today. Thanks for posting that, John.
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I think there’s a lot of truth to this – calls to mind the old saying “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Thanks, Cheryl!