Books

19 Canadian books to check out during Black History Month 2024

Check out this reading list of recent fiction, nonfiction and poetry titles from buzzworthy Black Canadian authors.

Black History Month 2024 is the perfect time to check out this buzzworthy list of recent fiction, nonfiction and poetry books created by some of Canada's most talked about Black authors.

In The Upper Country by Kai Thomas

The yellow book cover features an illustration of the orange silhouette of a woman in a dress standing in a hay field. Layered over half the image is the black side profile of another woman, neck up.
In the Upper Country is a novel by Kai Thomas. (Viking Press)

In The Upper Country is the story of young Lensinda Martin, who is summoned to interview an old woman who shot and killed a slave hunter. The woman, who recently arrived in Dunmore, Alta., via the Underground Railroad, refuses to confess but instead proposes a deal: a story for a story. Through these stories, the interwoven nature of Indigenous and Black histories in North America become apparent and Lensinda's destiny could be changed forever.

In The Upper Country won the 2023 Writers' Trust Atwood Gibson Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the 2023 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

Kai Thomas is a writer, carpenter and land steward. Born and raised in Ottawa, he is of Black and mixed heritage descended from Trinidad and the British Isles. CBC Books named Thomas a Black writer to watch in 2023

LISTEN | Kai Thomas discusses In the Upper Country:
In this fictional portrayal of mid-19th century Ontario, a young Black journalist is summoned after a bounty hunter is murdered. In The Upper Country won the 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction prize.

Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji

A book cover of flowers with write writing. A Black woman with long brown hair rests her head on her hand.
Shut Up You're Pretty is a book by Téa Mutonji. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Yoni Mutonji)

Shut Up You're Pretty is a short fiction collection that tells stories of a young woman coming of age in the 21st century in Scarborough, Ont. The disarming, punchy and observant stories follow her as she watches someone decide to shave her head in an abortion clinic waiting room, bonds with her mother over fish and contemplates her Congolese traditions at a wedding. 

Kudakwashe Rutendo will champion Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji on Canada Reads 2024.

Shut Up You're Pretty was also on the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize shortlist and won the 2020 Edmund White Award for debut fiction. 

Téa Mutonji was named a writer to watch in 2019 by CBC Books. Born in Congo-Kinshasa, Mutonji is also the editor of the anthology Feel Ways: A Scarborough Anthology. She currently lives in Toronto.

LISTEN | Téa Mutonji discusses Shut Up You're Pretty:
Téa Mutonji talks to Shelagh Rogers about her Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize nominated novel, Shut Up You're Pretty.

Black Boys Like Me by Matthew R. Morris

Black Boys Like Me by Matthew R. Morris. Illustrated book cover of a vinyl record. A man with a black t-shit looks into the camera.
Black Boys Like Me is a book by Matthew R. Morris. (Viking, Anthony Gebrehiwot)

Matthew R. Morris was influenced by the prominent Black male figures he saw in sports, TV shows and music while growing up in Scarborough, Ont. Morris is the son of a white mother and immigrant Black father, and grew up striving for academic success whilst confronting Black stereotypes and exploring hip hop culture in the 1990s. In his collection of eight personal essays, Black Boys Like Me, he examines his own experiences with race and identity throughout childhood into his current work as an educator in Toronto. 

Morris is a writer, advocate and educator currently based in Toronto. As a public speaker, he has travelled across North America to educate on anti-racism in the education system. Black Boys Like Me is his first book.

LISTEN | Matthew Morris discusses the expectations placed on young Black men:
The writer and educator discusses his new nonfiction book, Black Boy Like Me, which explores public education, pop culture and his identity as a young Black man with an immigrant father and a white mother.

River Mumma by Zalika Reid-Benta

A dark book illustrated with waves and a fish tail with some buildings spread out. The author photo she is smiling and wearing a colourful shirt.
River Mumma is a book by Zalika Reid-Benta. (Penguin Canada, Rogene Reid)

River Mumma is a magical realist story inspired by Jamaican folklore. The main character is a young Black woman having a quarter-life crisis while adventuring through the streets of Toronto. The story follows Alicia, a young woman who still lives at home with her mom and has no career prospects. One evening, River Mumma, the Jamaican water deity, appears to inform Alicia that she has 24 hours to find her missing comb in the city.

Why River Mumma chose her is a mystery. Alicia barely remembers the legends she was told about the deity as a child. Still, Alicia embarks on her quest through the city which turns into a journey through time — to find herself, but also what the river carries.

Zalika Reid-Benta is a Toronto-based author who explores race, identity and culture through the lens of second-generation Caribbean Canadians in her work. The Columbia MFA graduate's debut novel Frying Plantain was on the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. CBC Books named Reid-Benta a writer to watch in 2019 and she served as jury chair for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

LISTEN | Zalika Reid-Benta on Q:
The author Zalika Reid-Benta was only 28 when she took the book industry by storm. Her debut book, “Frying Plantain,” was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. But here’s the thing: Zalika almost didn’t finish that book after some initial feedback deemed the manuscript “too Jamaican” and “too Canadian.” Now, she’s back with her second book and debut novel, “River Mumma” — a fantasy that unequivocally pays homage to her roots. She talks to Tom about her new novel and how her unwavering commitment to her roots paid off.

The Islands by Dionne Irving

The Islands by Dionne Irving. Illustrated book cover of palm leaves on a metal roof sheet.
The Islands is a collection of stories by Dionne Irving. (Catapult Books, Myriam Nicodemus)

Set across the United States, Jamaica and Europe from the 1950s to present day, The Islands details the migration stories of Jamaican women and their descendants. Each short story explores colonialism and its impact as women experience the ongoing tensions between identity and the place they long to call home.

The Islands was shortlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Dionne Irving is a writer and creative writing teacher from Toronto. She released her first novel, Quint, in 2021 and her work has been featured in journals and magazines like LitHub, Missouri Review and New Delta Review. The Islands is her debut short story collection. 

LISTEN | Dionne Irving speaks with The Next Chapter's Ryan B. Patrick:
Dionne Irving grew up working at her family's Caribbean grocery store in Toronto, and it was where she found inspiration for some of the stories in her Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted collection The Islands.

Bottom Rail on Top by D.M. Bradford

Illustrated book cover of pink and yellow abstract shapes. Portrait of a Black author with wire-framed glasses and wearing a pale pink shirt
D.M. Bradford is the author of the poetry collection Bottom Rail on Top. (Brick Books, Sarah Bodri)

Bottom Rail on Top is a collection of poems which embodies the Black histories of antebellum life and emancipation in America. Bottom Rail on Top meditates on lineage and legacy through poetic fragments.

D.M. Bradford is a Montreal-based poet and translator. Their other books include Dream of No One but Myself, which won the 2022 A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and their translated book House Within a House.

We Rip the World Apart by Charlene Carr

A Black woman with curly hair smiles at the camera. A yellow book cover with pink and orange-toned writing.
We Rip the World Apart is a book by Charlene Carr. (HarperCollins)

We Rip the World Apart is a novel that tells the layered story of Kareela, a 24-year-old, biracial woman, who finds out she's pregnant and is struggling to find herself; her mother, Evelyn, who fled to Canada from Jamaica in the 1980s; and her paternal grandmother, Violet, who moved into their house after Kareela's brother was killed by the police. The novel weaves the past, present and future as secrets are shared and buried and choices are made that have lasting reverberations. 

Carr is a Toronto-raised writer and author based in Nova Scotia. She is the author of several independently published novels and a novella. Her first novel with a major publisher is Hold My Girl. She was named a writer to watch in 2023 by CBC Books.

LISTEN | Charlene Carr on having moving in common with her protagonist, race, politics and grief:
Moving from the diverse streets of Toronto to rural Atlantic Canada at a young age is something both Charlene Carr and the protagonist of her latest novel share in common. The Nova Scotia writer discusses race, politics and grief in her latest book We Rip the World Apart.

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

Book cover of purple and pink sunset.
Ordinary Notes is a book by Christina Sharpe. (CBC Books)

Ordinary Notes reflects on questions about Black life in the wake of loss. Christina Sharpe brings together the past and present realities with possible futures to construct a portrait of everyday Black existence. The book touches on language, beauty, memory, art, photography and literature.

Ordinary Notes won the 2023 Writers' Trust Hilary Weston Prize for nonfiction

Sharpe is a writer and professor. She is also the author of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Sharpe is the Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the department of humanities, at York University, in Toronto.

Sharpe, along with Canadian writers Michelle Good and Dan Werb will judge the 2024 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

LISTEN | Christina Sharpe speaks to Shelagh Rogers about Ordinary Notes:
Christina Sharpe talks to Shelagh Roger about her book, Ordinary Notes.

My Fighting Family by Morgan Campbell

My Fighting Family by Morgan Campbell. On the left, a cream coloured book cover with green lettering that reads "My Fighting Family: Borders and Bloodlines and the Battles That Made Us." On the right, a portrait of a Black man with a bald head and glasses wearing a black shirt smiling into the camera.
My Fighting Family is a memoir by Morgan Campbell. (Penguin Random House Canada, CBC)

My Fighting Family is a detailed history of one family's battles across the generations and reckons with what it means being a Black Canadian with strong American roots. Sports journalist and writer Morgan Campbell traces his family's roots in the rural American south to their eventual cross-border split and the grudges and squabbles along the way. From the south side of Chicago in the 1930s to the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War and Morgan's life dealing with the racial tensions in Canada — My Fighting Family is about journeying to find clarity in conflict.

Morgan Campbell is an journalist and a senior contributor at CBC Sports. He was a sports writer at the Toronto Star for over 18 years. His work highlights where sports intersects with off-the-field issues like race, culture, politics and business. His memoir My Fighting Family is his first book.

Code Noir by Canisia Lubrin

Code Noir is a novel by Canisia Lubrin.
Code Noir is a novel by Canisia Lubrin. (Knopf Canada, Samuel Engelking)

Code Noir is the debut novel of Canadian poet, thinker and writer Canisia Lubrin. The novel's structure examines the infamous real-life "Code Noir" — a set of 59 historical decrees originally passed in 1685 by King Louis XIV of France defining the conditions of enslaved Black people in the French colonial empire — and reframes it with 59 loosely connected stories that explore identity and humanity. Ranging in style from contemporary realism to dystopia, from futuristic fantasy to historical fiction, Code Noir features characters who desire to live beyond the ruins of the past.

Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor and teacher. Her debut poetry collection, Voodoo Hypothesis, was longlisted for the Gerald Lambert Award, the Pat Lowther Award and was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award. Her poetry collection The Dyzgraphxst won the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General's Literary Prize for poetry.

WATCH | Canisia Lubrin performs a powerful pandemic poem:

This poem by Canisia Lubrin confronts our failure to protect the elderly early in the pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 4:02
Poets unflinchingly face the world in its complexity in Poetry on the Mainstage, part of the Frankfurt Book Fair where Canada is featured as the Guest of Honour.

Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon by Howard Douglas McCurdy & George Elliott Clarke

Image composite of the book and authors of Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon is a book by Howard Douglas McCurdy with George Elliott Clarke.
Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon is a book by Howard Douglas McCurdy, left, with George Elliott Clarke. (CBC, Nimbus Publishing Limited, Camelia Linta)

Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon is the biography of Dr. Howard McCurdy, one of Canada's most iconic Black politicians and activists, written with George Elliott Clarke, the country's former parliamentary poet laureate. Black Activist, Black Scientist, Black Icon documents McCurdy's life and career: his achievements include becoming Canada's first Black tenured professor, a founder of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the second Black member of Parliament in Canada. McCurdy died on Feb. 20, 2018 at the age of 85. 

McCurdy was 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; and the second Black person elected to Parliament. He was also a biology professor and human rights activist who was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in Essex County in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Clarke is a Canadian poet, writer, activist and author. He was Canada's parliamentary poet laureate and was the fourth poet laureate of Toronto. He is a member of the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada, and his recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor General's Literary Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award. Clarke currently teaches African-Canadian literature at the University of Toronto. His other books include Whylah FallsGeorge and Rue and The Motorcyclist

LISTEN | George Elliott Clarke reflects on the life of Howard McCurdy:
Canadian poet and author George Elliot Clarke says many people don't know enough about his late friend, Dr. Howard D. McCurdy - a Black civil rights activist, a scientist, and politician. But Clarke plans to change that through his work to complete a new autobiography.

Building a Nest from the Bones of My People by Cara-Lyn Morgan

 
Building a Nest from the Bones of My People by Cara-Lyn Morgan. Illustrated book cover of two yellow hummingbirds surrounded by green leaves and a dark brown colour hand reaching towards the birds. Portrait of a Metis and Trinidadian female writer wearing a black shirt and white cardigan.
Building a Nest from the Bones of My People is a poetry collection by Cara-Lyn Morgan. (Invisible Publishing, Love Bee Photography 2022)

Building a Nest from the Bones of My People begins with the speaker realizing their experience with sexual abuse in their family. In this poetry collection, Cara-Lyn Morgan writes about first-time motherhood, generational trauma and colonization. 

Cara-Lyn Morgan is a Métis and Trinidadian poet and writer from Regina. Her other poetry collections include What Became My Grieving and Cartograph

Where We End & Begin by Jane Igharo

A woman smiles at the camera. A book cover of a man and a woman embracing in front of a bridge at sunset.
Jane Igharo is the author of the novel Where We End & Begin. (Borada Photography, Berkley)

In Where We End & Begin, two star-crossed lovers named Obinna and Dunni reunite at a wedding, rekindling their old high school romance. They had broken up when Dunni left Nigeria to go to college in America. While things have changed, they are still drawn to each other. However, as they rediscover each other — bringing up secrets, and incidents from the past — Dunni must figure out if their love from their younger days is enough to keep them together. 

Jane Igharo immigrated to Canada from Nigeria when she was 12 years old. She currently lives in Toronto. She is also the author of the novel was Ties That Tether.

The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

A composite image featuring a pink book cover with a silhouette of a solider on a horse and the book's author, a smiling man with short dark hair.
The African Samurai is a novel by Craig Shreve. (Simon & Schuster)

Yasuke was a 16th-century samurai. He was Japan's first foreign-born samurai, and the only samurai of African descent. His story is special, and little known. Canadian writer Craig Shreve, hopes to change that with his novel The African Samurai

The African Samurai tells Yasuke's story. As a boy, he is sold as a slave to Portuguese mercenaries. A series of unlikely events results in Yasuke finding himself in Japan, now imprisoned by the powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga. From there, the two forge an unlikely bond, and Yasuke begins his journey to becoming a samurai, and the power that comes with it. But with this power comes attention, risk, danger ⁠— and the chance to make history.

Shreve is a writer originally from North Buxton, Ont. He is also the author of One Night in Mississippi.

LISTEN | Craig Shreve discusses The African Samurai:
Not much is known about Yasuke — an enslaved Black man from Africa who ended up working as a samurai in some of Japan’s most notable houses — but that didn’t stop Craig Shreve from writing about him in his new novel, “The African Samurai.” Craig tells Tom why he was drawn to the 16th-century story and the challenges he faced turning this forgotten history into a novel.

Broughtupsy by Christina Cooke

Broughtupsy is a novel by Christina Cooke
Broughtupsy is a novel by Christina Cooke. (House of Anansi Press, Eli Jules)

Broughtupsy, the debut novel of Christina Cooke, is a coming-of-age story that explores what it means to be a gay woman in Jamaica. When Akúa's sibling suddenly dies, she returns home to Jamaica for the first time in ten years. After meeting and falling in love with a local woman named Jayda, Akúa is forced to confront the difficult reality of being gay in a deeply religious family and how to be at peace with her relatives — and herself.

Cooke is a Jamaican-born Canadian writer based in New York City. Cooke's writing has previously appeared in PRISM international, The Caribbean Writer, Prairie Schooner and Epiphany. She was a 2023 Writers' Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize winner and 2022 Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award winner.

Wires that Sputter by Britta Badour

The magenta book cover features the book's title "Wires that Sputter" in big, orange block letters, covering most of the book cover.
Wires that Sputter is a book by Britta Badour. (Penguin Random House Canada, Gilad Cohen)

Britta Badour's debut collection of poetry, Wires that Sputter, explores topics like pop culture, sports, family dynamics and Black liberation. 

Badour, better known as Britta B., is an artist, public speaker and poet living in Toronto. She is the recipient of the 2021 Breakthrough Artist Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation. She teaches spoken word performance at Seneca College.

LISTEN | Britta Badour on The Next Chapter:
Canadian poet and award-winning spoken word performer Britta Badour, aka Britta B, shares the inspirations behind her debut poetry collection, Wires that Sputter.

Ignite by Andre De Grasse

Ignite is a book by Andre De Grasse.
Ignite is a book by Andre De Grasse. (HarperCollins, Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Ignite: Unlock the Hidden Potential Within is a book about Andre De Grasse's journey to becoming the most decorated male summer Olympian in Canadian history. It tells De Grasse's story while sharing the lessons he has learned about achieving success and finding happiness along the way. 

De Grasse is a six-time Olympic medallist and World champion sprinter, and the founder of the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation. He is also the author of the picture book Race with Me!

WATCH | Andre de Grasse discusses his future after athletics:

"I can't run forever": Andre De Grasse opens up about future plans in new book | Athletics North

6 months ago
Duration 4:29
Andre De Grasse learned a lot about himself when writing his new book 'Ignite', in which, he tells stories of his life and learnings as the 'accidental sprinter'.

Bedroom Rapper by Rollie Pemberton

A man wearing a blue bucket hat looks at the camera. A book cover featuring a blue toned photo of a young boy.
Rollie Pemberton wrote the book Bedroom Rapper. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Rollie Pemberton is best known by his stage name, Cadence Weapon. His memoir, Bedroom Rapper, intertwines his own personal journey in the music industry with an in-depth exploration of the history of hip-hop. 

Pemberton is an Alberta rapper, poet, journalist and on-air personality. He won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his album Parallel World. His writing has been published in Pitchfork, The Guardian, Wired and Hazlitt. Currently based in Toronto, Pemberton was a former poet laureate for Edmonton.

LISTEN | Rollie Pemberton on his memoir Bedroom Rapper:
Rollie Pemberton- AKA Cadence Weapon- dives into the music industry's machinations, weaving his own story with the history of hip-hop and rap, in his memoir Bedroom Rapper: Cadence Weapon on Hip-Hop, Resistance, and Surviving the Music Industry.
 

Let It Go by Chelene Knight

Book and author image for Let It Go by Chelene Knight.
Let It Go is a nonfiction book by Chelene Knight. (HarperCollins Publishers, Jon McRae)

Let It Go by Vancouver author Chelene Knight explores ways to make resolutions that will bring more joy to one's life. The nonfiction work draws on personal experience and the advice of leaders from various Black communities to share methods of improving emotional and mental health during times of hardship. This includes looking at ways to reshape communication with those closest to you and redefine language, relationships and love to find one's own unique path to joy.

Knight is a writer and poet from Vancouver. She is also the author of the Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which won the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her 2022 novel Junie was on the longlist for Canada Reads 2024 and won the 2023 Vancouver Book Award. Her work has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and the U.S. and she has been a judge for literary awards, including the B.C. Book Prizes.

LISTEN | Chelene Knight discusses Let It Go:
In our first half, guest host Dan Burritt talks about personal finance with Mark Kalinowski, financial educator, Credit Counselling Society in Calgary and Mark Ting, On the Coast's financial columnist and partner with Foundation Wealth. In our second half, award-winning B.C. author Chelene Knight joins us to talk about her new book "Let it Go: Free Yourself from Old Beliefs and Find a New Path to Joy", and how to make resolutions that will bring more joy to your life.

This list was curated by Ryan B. Patrick


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Five fists raised, different shades of brown skin, next to text that says Being Black in Canada surrounded by an orange and red border.
(CBC)

Corrections

  • This post has been updated to correct plot details for In The Upper Country by Kai Thomas.
    Feb 14, 2024 11:42 AM ET

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