Poetry primer to feed the soul

Must-read works by local Black poets

If poetry feeds the soul, Nova Scotians are truly blessed. The province is home to some of the country’s most influential Black writers including Afua Cooper, Abena Beloved Green, Maxine Tynes and George Elliott Clarke.  

With the winter study break looming, many students seek scholarly and leisure reading. It is impossible to cover every talented Black poet in Nova Scotia, but here are some names to look for.  

Gloria Ann Wesley 

A retired teacher, Gloria Ann Wesley is credited as the first published Black Nova Scotian poet. Her first book of poetry, To My Someday Child, was released in 1975.  

Since her initial publication, Wesley has appeared in three Canadian anthologies of poetry. She has also published two additional books of her own poetry, children’s literature, historical novels and young adult novels. Her last book, Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Africville, tells the story of Africville, a Black Nova Scotian community wrongfully destroyed in the 1960s. 

El Jones 

Recognized for her post as fifth poet laureate of Halifax, El Jones is also a journalist, human rights activist and instructor at the University of King’s College.  

Jones is a spoken word poet, and her first book of poetry Live from the Afrikan Resistance! was published in 2014. She encourages the voices of other Black poets, co-hosting a CKDU-FM radio show called Black Power Hour. The show invites imprisoned Black Canadians to call in and share their creative work on air.  

Shauntay Grant 

Halifax poet laureate from 2009 until 2011, Shauntay Grant is known for her artistry as a writer and performer. From Grant’s award-winning children’s book Africville to her theatrical success with The Bridge at Neptune Theatre, her talent spans multiple facets of art and literature.  

Grant is an associate professor at Dalhousie University, focusing on subjects of creative writing, Black Nova Scotians, orality and poetry and more.  

Sylvia Hamilton 

A King’s College professor, Sylvia Hamilton is celebrated for her work as a Black historian, filmmaker, artist and poet. Hamilton’s artistic achievements delve into the current lives and history of Black Canadians. She has earned multiple awards including the Queen’s  Diamond Jubilee medal (honouring significant achievements by Canadians) and the Nova Scotia Portia White prize (honouring Nova Scotian artists who have achieved excellence in their field). 

Hamilton’s debut book of poetry, And I Alone Escaped to Tell Youwas published in 2014. Her poems have also appeared in the Dalhousie ReviewThe Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian PoetryWest Coast Line journal (now known as Line – SFU), To Find Us: Words and Images of Halifax and other publications.  

Guyleigh Johnson  

Hailing from North End Dartmouth, N.S., Guyleigh Johnson is an advocate for her community and an accomplished writer.  

Johnson has published two books of poetry. The first, Expect the Unexpected, is a compilation of poems about the lives of North End Dartmouth youth. The second is called Afraid of the Dark. It tells the story of a teenage girl named Kahlua struggling with her identity as a young Black woman finding salvation in poetry.   

Damini Awoyiga 

While the above poets are distinguished in their field, it is important to shine a light on the future generation of Nova Scotian poets. Damini Awoyiga, a 13-year-old student, recently presented her poem Together We Stand at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, N.S. 

Illustration by Laura Supnik on Blush

Awoyiga is no stranger to artistic endeavours. In 2020, she became the first junior artist in residence for the justice and health organization Wellness Within. She also started the Afro-Indigenous Youth Book Club, the first book club of its type in Atlantic Canada. 

You can check out another one of Awoyiga’s poems called Golden Molds published in an October 2020 edition of the Chronicle Herald on the newspaper’s website

More great reads 

Interested in reading more great Black Canadian poets? Consider reading The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry edited by Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron. This volume contains poems by many of the poets above.  

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