Dionne Brand (born January 7, 1953) is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist and documentarian. She was Toronto's third Poet Laureate from September 2009 to November 2012.
2 Academic career
3.1 Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots
3.2 "St. Mary Estate"
4 "This Body For Itself"
4.1 Other themes
5 Critical reception
6 Awards and honours
7.5 Anthologies edited
9 Additional reading
Dionne Brand was born in Guayaguayare, Trinidad and Tobago. She graduated from Naparima Girls' High School in 1970, and emigrated to Canada to attend the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1975. Brand later attained an MA (1989) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
Brand has held a number of academic positions, including:
Assistant Professor of English, University of Guelph (1992–94)
Ruth Wynn Woodward Professor in Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University
Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Writer-in-Residence, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York (2004–05)
Distinguished Poet for the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Chair, Vancouver Island University (2006)
She 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.
Brand explores themes of gender, race, sexuality and feminism, white male domination, injustices and "the moral hypocrisies of Canada" Despite being often characterized as a Caribbean writer, Brand identifies as a "black Canadian".
She has contributed to many anthologies opposing the violent killings of Black men and women, the massacre of 14 women in Montreal, and racism and inequality as experienced by Aboriginal women of Canada, particularly Helen Betty Osborne's death in the Pas.
Rinaldo Walcott in his book Black Like Who? includes two essays ("'A Tough Geography': Towards a Poetics of Black Space(s) in Canada" and "'No Language is Neutral': The Politics of Performativity in M. Nourbese Philip's and Dionne Brand's Poetry") on Brand's poetry and the principal themes of her work. (Brand herself had previously used a line from Derek Walcott to title her collection No Language is Neutral, in which she "uses language to disturb" in poetry containing biographic meaning ancestral references.) Brand believes that "by addressing real power can we begin to deal with racism", by participating in economic and political power.
Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots
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 perceptions of racism and its impact on their lives. The authors critiqued the existence and ubiquity of racism, disparities and resistance, arguing that two themes exist where racism prevails in their interviewees' lives: through "the culture of racism" and through structural and institutional ways.
Rivers gives each individual an opportunity to speak about his or her personal and migration story. The interviewees speak of their anger, resentments, and complaints of being treated as different and inferior. Brand sees racism as a powerful tool to censor oppositional voices and disagrees with the conception of racism as isolated or unusual.
"St. Mary Estate"
Personal experience and ancestral memory inform her short story "St. Mary Estate", from Sans Souci and Other Stories, pp. 360–366. The narrator, accompanied by her sister, revisits the cocoa estate of their birth and childhood, recalling past experiences of racism and shame. She focuses on the summer beach house belonging to "rich whites" that was cleaned by their father, the overseer slave. Her anger over discrimination and poverty is triggered by the recollection of living quarters made of thin cardboard with newspapers walls - barracks that depict the physical, social and psychological degradation endured by the slaves who were denied the basic human rights and freedom.
"This Body For Itself"
In "This Body For Itself" (1994), in Bread Out of Stone, Brand discusses the way the black female body is represented. She asserts that in male authored texts, the black female body is often portrayed as motherly or virginal. In female authored texts, the black female body is often portrayed as protector and/or resistor to rape. Brand states that it is understandable why this happens. The avoidance of portraying black female bodies as sexual is out of self-preservation, as black female bodies are often overly sexualized in their portrayal. However, Brand argues that this self-preservation is a trap, because desire and sexuality can be a great source of power, and suppressing this only further suppresses female power to own their own desire. She writes, “The most radical strategy of the female body for itself is the lesbian body confessing all the desire and fascination for itself” (108).
Other topics addressed in Brand's writing include the sexual exploitation of African women. Brand says, "We are born thinking of travelling back." She writes: "Listen, I am a Black woman whose 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."
Brand has received numerous awards. Writer Myrian Chancy says Brand found "it possible ...to 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."
Critics of Brand's early work focused on 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 called her "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." They cite her own and others’ shifting locations, both literal and theoretical.
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." Dickinson calls these shifts in her conceptualization of national and personal affiliations "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." But, Dickinson says, "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 Redefining the Subject: Sites of Play in Canadian Women's Writing, Charlotte Sturgess suggests that Brand employs a language "through which identity emerges as a mobile, thus discursive, construct." 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." Sturgess says Brand's work is 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."
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." The editor and critic Constance Rooke calls Brand "one of the very best [poets] in the world today", and "compare[s] her to Pablo Neruda or—in fiction—to José Saramago."
Awards and honours
Brand's awards include:
1997: Governor General's Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award for Land to Light On (1997)
2003: Pat Lowther Award for thirsty (2002)
2006: City of Toronto Book Award for What We All Long For (2005)
2006: Harbourfront Festival Prize in recognition of her important contribution to literature
2006: Fellow of the Academies for Arts, Humanities, and Sciences of Canada (formerly the Royal Society of Canada)
2009: Poet Laureate of Toronto
2011: Griffin Poetry Prize for Ossuaries