Friday, 19 July 2013


                             BLACK              SOCIAL              HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Dionne Brand  born January 7, 1953 is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist and documentarian. She was named Toronto's third Poet Laureate in September 2009.

Dionne Brand was born in
 Guayaguayare, Trinidad and Tobago. She graduated from Naparima Girls' High School in 1970, and immigrated to Canada, to attend the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1975. Brand also holds a MA (1989) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education - OISE. Currently Brand teaches at the University of Guelph.

Brand frequently explores themes of gender, race, sexuality and feminism in her writing. In "Bread Out of Stone", Brand uses personal experiences and strong metaphoric language to expose racism, white male domination, injustices and the moral hypocrisies of Canada with its own assessment as being "not like the United States". As a show of support of women solidarity, Brand has participated in many anthologies and writing opposing the violent killings of Black men and women and specifically pointing out the massacre of fourteen women in Montreal and the racism and inequality experienced by Aboriginal women of Canada, particularly Helen Betty Osborne's death in the Pas.
Despite the similarity of their names, she should not be confused with poet Di Brandt.

Scholarly Engagement

Many scholars have analyzed Dionne Brand's work. In his book Black Like Who?, Rinaldo Walcott includes two essays ("A Tough Geography": Towards a Poetics of Black Space(s) in Canadaand "No Language is Neutral": The Politics of Performativity in M. Nourbese Philip's and Dionne Brand's Poetry) that deal with Dionne Brand's poetry and take up the overarching themes of her work. Brand herself had previously used a line from Derek Walcott to title her collection, No Language is Neutral (nominated for Governor General's award) in which she "uses language to disturb" in poetry that is filled with biographic meanings and ancestral references, including contemporary inequality issues and racism. As a Marxist and feminist, Brand believes that "by addressing real power can we begin to deal with racism", that is, engaging in both economic and political power.

Academic career

Brand has held several prestigious academic positions, including:
  • Writer-in-Residence, University of Toronto (1990–1991)
  • Assistant Professor of English, University of Guelph (1992–1994)
  • Ruth Wynn Woodward Professor in Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University (2000–2002)
  • Writer-in-Residence, University of Guelph (2003–2004)
  • Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Writer-in-Residence, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York (2004–2005)
  • Distinguished Poet for the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Chair, Vancouver Island University (2006)
  • Program Faculty in the Writing Studio, Banff Centre (2007; 2009)
  • Brand is currently Professor of English at the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph where she also holds a University Research Chair

Writing career

In Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots (1986) Brand and co-author Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta interviewed a hundred people from the Canadian Native, Black, Chinese, and South Asian communities about their perspectives of racism and how it has impacted their lives. From these stories and recollections of childhood to workplace experiences, the authors critiqued the existence and commonality of racism, disparities and resistance. They argue that two themes exist where racism prevails in the lives of the interviewees and these themes are through "the culture of racism" and through the structural and institutional ways. Consequently, economic hardship, lack of employment and career choices and opportunities are some of the experiences identified by the minority, ethnic groups and immigrants.
Brand recognizes that there are also different forms of struggles and visions to combat racism. This book attempts to give each individual a voice, an opportunity to speak about their personal and immigration stories as part of a historical validation and as part of a third in a series of anti-racism literature. Women and men spoke of their anger, resentments, and complaints of racial tensions of abuse, isolation, staring, name calling and being treated as different and inferior. Brand addresses how racism is used as a powerful tool to censor oppositional voices and she opposes the media report that racism occurs in isolated cases or unusual crisis.[10]
The use of personal experience and ancestral memory [6] can be found in Brand's writing strategies such as in a short story fiction, "St. Mary Estate",[11] which is taken from Brand's book, Sans Souci and Other Stories, pp. 360–366, Brand begins the chapter "Maps of Memory: Places Revisited" by describing the colonial oppression that her fictional characters experienced in a place called "St. Mary Estate."
The narrator and her sister revisit the cocoa estate, the place of their birth and childhood and recall past experiences of racism and shame. The old place is filled with painful memories including the summer beach house that were used by rich 'white' people who the narrator refers to as "they" and whose big quarters were scrubbed and cleaned by her father who works as the overseer slave. The narrator recalls the beach house was empty two months of the year forbidden for them to use.
Through the narrative, Brand illustrates the discrimination and poverty issues because the families were cramped into their barracks made of thin cardboards with newspapers walls. Brand also employs various stylistic devices including the use of repetitive language and the use of anger and obscene language to expose the poor segregated quarters of slave barracks, overseer's shack, and estate workers barracks that depict the physical, social and psychological degradation endured by the slaves who were denied the basic human rights and freedom.
Other topics addressed in her poetry and novels include sexual exploitation of African women, and what Brand refers to as "a pandemic scourging the Diaspora" and declares, "We are born thinking of travelling back" which is suggestive of the individual and historic travelling and returning as experienced by her ancestors.[12] As Brand writes: "Listen, I am a Black woman whose of ancestors were brought to a new world laying tightly packed in ships. Fifteen million of them survived the voyage, five million of them women; millions among them died, were killed, committed suicide in the middle passage." [6]
Brand has received many awards and her ongoing intellectual contribution are appreciated by the Black communities and women who find inspiration in her social activism and her writing among other women writers of African descent as expressed by writer Myrian Chancy that she found "it possible engage in personal/critical work which uncovers the connections between us as Black women at the same time as re-discovering that which has been kept from us: our cultural heritage, the language of our grandmothers, ourselves." 

Critical reception

Many of the first critics and scholars to evaluate Brand's early work regularly framed her writing in discourses of Caribbean national and cultural identity and Caribbean literary theory. Barbadian poet and scholar Edward Kamau Brathwaite referred to Brand as "our first major exile female poet." Academic J. Edward Chamberlain argued that she is "a final witness to the experience of migration and exile" whose "literary inheritance is in some genuine measure West Indian, a legacy of [Derek] Walcott, Brathwaite and others."  Their gesture toward a literal border crossing, from the Caribbean to Canada, speaks to the increasingly profound engagement with the idea of her own and others’ shifting locations, both literal and theoretical, evident in Brand's work.
Peter Dickinson argues that "Brand 'reterritorializes' … boundaries in her writing, (dis)placing or (dis)locating the national narrative of subjectivity … into the diaspora of cross-cultural, -racial, -gender, -class, and –erotic identifications."  These profound shifts in the way Brand conceptualizes national and personal affiliations to and boundaries around Caribbean and Canadian locations speak to what Dickinson calls "the politics of location [which] cannot be separated from the politics of 'production and reception.'"  Critic Leslie Sanders argues that, in her ongoing exploration of the notions of "here" and "there", Brand uses her own "statelessness"  as a vehicle for entering "'other people's experience'" and "'other places.'"  In Sanders’ words, "by becoming a Canadian writer, Brand is extending the Canadian identity in a way [Marshall] McLuhan would recognize and applaud."  Her work, then, according to Dickinson, Sanders and others, has been instrumental in changing the way that Canadian literature is ultimately constituted. Nevertheless, Dickinson concedes, "Because Brand's 'here' is necessarily mediated, provisional, evanescent – in a word 'unlocatable' – her work remains marginal/marginalizable in academic discussions of Canadian literary canons." 
In her book, Redefining the Subject: Sites of Play in Canadian Women's Writing, Charlotte Sturgess suggests that Brand employs a language—in the short story collection Sans Souci (1988) and the novel In Another Place, Not Here (1996), in particular—"through which identity emerges as a mobile, thus discursive, construct."  Echoing Dickinson's theory that Brand's work both dislodges and disturbs the borders safeguarding narratives about fixed national identities, Sturgess argues that Brand's "work uses language strategically, as a wedge to split European traditions, forms and aesthetics apart; to drive them onto their own borders and contradictions."  The work Brand's writing performs is, Sturgess insists, at least two-pronged: it "underline[s] the enduring ties of colonialism within contemporary society;"  and it "investigates the very possibilities of Black, female self-representation in Canadian cultural space." 

Speaking specifically of Brand's considerable body of poetry, Italian academic and theorist Franca Bernabei writes in the preamble to Luce ostinata/Tenacious Light (2007), the Italian-English selected anthology of Brand's poetry, that "Brand's poetic production reveals a remarkable variety of formal-stylistic strategies and semantic richness as well as the ongoing pursuit of a voice and a language that embody her political, affective, and aesthetic engagement with the human condition of the black woman—and, more exactly, all those oppressed by the hegemonic program of modernity."  On the back cover of the same collection, editor and critic Constance Rooke calls Brand "one of the very best [poets] in the world today", and goes on to "compare her to [Pablo]Neruda or—in fiction—to [José] Saramago."