New literary work "gives voice” to black women during Black History Month
Simon Fraser University lecturer Chantal Gibson’s latest literary work is drawing rave reviews while her talent as a writer is also attracting attention.
Gibson's new book of poetry, How She Read (Caitlin Press 2019), published for February’s Black History Month, is on CBC's 20 books of poetry for spring. She has also been pegged by CBC as one of six black Canadian writers to watch in 2019.
Her new book is based on her research on decolonizing English and the representation of black women in Canadian art and literature. It has been praised by Canadian novelist Lawrence Hill, parliamentary poet George Elliott Clarke, and recent Vancouver Book Award winner Chelene Knight.
Gibson is a founding faculty member of SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) in Surrey, where she teaches writing and visual communication. She is also a visual artist with interests in race, gender and history. That has led her to create unique artworks, including altered texts and installations, that challenge conventional thought and how we view Canadian literature, history, art, media and popular culture.
Gibson says her new collection of poems "gives voice to black women represented across the Canadian cultural imagination.” Their voices, past and present, are woven throughout her prose to offer “a mediation on motherhood, daughterhood, sisterhood, belonging, loss and recovery.”
"Writing this book was an exercise in un-learning English, challenging the rules of grammar and spelling that were taught to me as a child—the rules I uphold in my writing classroom every day,” says Gibson. “Excavating the imperialist ideologies embedded in old primary school readers and vocabulary spellers allowed me to reflect on the socializing functions of children's educational literature. Seemingly harmless narratives in vocabulary readers were marked with silences and historical erasure.”
Gibson adds: “It’s easy to go back to the '30s, '40s, '50s and ‘cherry pick’ examples of racism, sexism and homophobia in history books. My concern is that the cultural texts of our parents and grandparents harken to an idealized past—a false nostalgia that is floating in a contemporary moment demanding change. I hope readers will question what we learn, and how we learn and ask, who is speaking for whom?"
Gibson will deliver her first public reading from How She Read at the Vancouver Public Library on Wednesday, February 13 at 6:30pm. She will be joined by writers Chelene Knight, Juliane Okot Bitek and Whitney French for Ladies Night, Reading Women in the City.
Gibson will be in residence from Feb. 14-21 at Victoria’s Open Space Gallery, where a literary-art exhibit based on her book, called How She Read: Confronting the Romance of Empire, will run until the end of February. A special exhibit entitled How She Read; (re)Visiting my Mother's Nova Scotia, will open at Ross Creek Arts Centre in Canning, Nova Scotia on Feb. 10.
Later this spring her work Souvenir, which was featured in in Here We Are Here, Black Canadian Contemporary Art, in Toronto and Montreal in 2018, will be at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.