On Writing, with Fiona Raye Clarke and the Basodee Collective
Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth (General Store Publishing House) is an eye-opening collection of poetry, fiction and essays by young black writers.
Today we talk with editor Fiona Raye Clarke as well as collective members Bella Ingabire-Gallina, Freddy King and Elias Nabutete about their experiences with the collection, their upcoming projects and their recommended reads for those who are interested in Canadian race relations and social justice.
Tell us about your book, Basodee: An Anthology Dedicated to Black Youth.
Fiona Raye Clarke:
Basodee is a collection of youth essays, short stories, poems I edited published by General Store Publishing House, which was produced in partnership with the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Twelve youth members of the collective contributed art and writing to the book including myself, and the President of the Ontario Black History Society wrote the foreword. Basodee is a Trinidadian creole word meaning “disoriented and half-conscious” and it is the term we think describes the experience of Black Youth in Canada. Through the book, we hope to make a positive difference to youth of African-Canadian descent and the youth of other ethnicities and hope that it will become a resource for Black youth and for youth within the system.
How did the contributing authors for this collection come together? Was it difficult to decide which pieces to include and how to order them?
I was part of a few writing groups including the Toronto Street Writers. Through Emily Pohl-Weary, I put out a call for artist submissions. And also put out a call at one of Mazin Osman’s iFreeCan events and got a few submissions from that. We ended up with a great variety of people from different backgrounds and with different voices while almost all sharing the same vision for the book.
It was sometimes difficult to make choices about what to put into the collection, since a lot of the pieces revolve around personal identity. Thus, rejecting a piece or offering critique was sometimes viewed as judging the writer personally. In the end, though, I had to keep true to the aims of the book which were to value and honour difference and unfortunately, some of the pieces submitted did not meet this criteria.
Why did you decide on a collection that incorporates genres like poetry and stories? What opportunities did these creative genres open up for the writers?
Since the book is mainly targeted towards youth, I wanted to incorporate work that would reach them. I felt that they are more likely to see themselves in personal stories and creative work rather than academic essays. Thus, I tried to have a mix of both so the two forms could educate and inform in different ways. I think the creative work let the writers put a face to the issues they’re discussing and talk about them from a position of authority: their experience.
What are some of the issues encountered by young Black-identified Canadians today and what effect can those issues have?
Some of the issues young Black-identified Canadians face are poverty, lack of educational equality, violence, a sense of not belonging, stigmatization and a lack of opportunities. The effect these can have is a loss of hope, restlessness, a cycle of poverty and potential for violence.
I fell like most young Black-identified Canadians are undergoing identity crisis which leaves them confused. There is a lack of young Black people who are pursuing higher education or occupying high positions in the work place. Prejudice and lack of encouragement I guess are the main cause!
I believe that for most Young Black Canadians they have, for the most part not been taught how to be men and women beyond the Music Video/BET persona of many rap artists as well as athletes in sports. This is mainly due to not having a sense of belonging in established society with its own positive cultural values of people of Canadian African descent.
What are some additional books or resources you would recommend to readers interested in the issues facing Black Canadian youth?
First, I would recommend The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Then to learn more about our history in Canada I would recommend How Blacks Created Canada by Fil Fraser and The Blacks in Canada by Robin Winks.
Books I would recommend to black youth facing an identity crisis are Race Matters by Cornel West, Malcolm X's autobiography and Half Breed by Maria Campbell.
The book called Nigger and The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah
What are you working on now?
I am currently finishing a forthcoming book of essays on African-Canadian religious experience in partnership with the Ontario Black History Society.
I am currently working on the widespread release of my first book Symposium Street: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry that is centralized around African and Urban themes and generational/societal conflict in urban life and in Africa.
I’m working on a television series called The Loop which I’m currently writing about street life based in Regent Park similar to The Wire but with a Toronto spin on it.