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80 years of Q&Q: talking with The Great Black North editors Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron

Valerie Mason-John

Valerie Mason-John

In 2013, Frontenac House published The Great Black North, the first anthology to survey contemporary African Canadian poetry in all its forms. Edited by author Valerie Mason-John and spoken-word poet Kevan Anthony Cameron, the collection features more than 90 writers, including George Elliott Clarke, Olive Senior, Lorna Goodison, and Harold Head. Mason-John and Cameron share insight into the creation of the award-winning collection.

What were your original goals for the anthology?
Valerie Mason-John: The anthology came out of my desire to know black Canadian history, as a new African Canadian. I first lived in Edmonton and I was very much affected by the poetry scene. I wanted to put my hand on a book that had voices from the rest of the country, and I couldn’t find one. We do have some provincial anthologies and Harold Head’s Canada in Us Now (1976), but it was very Toronto-based.
Kevan Anthony Cameron: Valerie shared her idea about investigating black Canadian poetry. She asked me about my knowledge and experience in the spoken-word community and the poetry scene. The question that she wanted answered was, “What is black Canadian poetry?”

Were there challenges including oral poetic forms in print?
Cameron: The main challenge as editors was identifying works that were maybe more appropriate or suited for publication even though they might be spoken-word poetry. We didn’t want something that in essence might be a completely different poem on the page from when it was performed.

What would you like to see happen with the book?
Mason-John: It would be great to publish it in French and get it in the educational system – it’s already on the curriculum in Nova Scotia for Grades 11 and 12.

This story appeared in Q&Q’s 80th anniversary feature in the April 2015 print issue.