Trinidadian-Canadian Poet Dionne Brand On Shortlist For Griffin Poetry Prize Canada’s Richest

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[Poetry and Literature News]
Photo: Facebook screenshot

Trinidadian-Canadian poet and author Dionne Brand

Trinidadian-Canadian poet Dionne Brand, a former Toronto Poet Laureate, was recently placed on the shortlist of nominees to win a 2019 Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Prize—Canada’s richest poetry prize.

The Griffin Poetry Prize, first given in 2001, was founded by businessman and philanthropist Scott Griffin. The prize is given annually to two poets, one from Canada, and one to an international poet who writes in English. Both winners will receive $75, 000. This year’s prize winners will be announced on June 6. Eve Joseph, from British Columbia; and Sarah Tolmie, from the University of Waterloo, are also finalists. Ms. Brand was nominated for her 2018 work, “The Blue Clerk.”

Ms. Brand, 66, was born in Guayaguayare, a south-eastern village in Trinidad. She emigrated to Canada in the early 1970’s and earned a B.A., in history and philosophy, from the University of Toronto, in 1975; and a M.A. from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, in 1989. She currently lives in Toronto.

Besides being a poet, Brand has authored works of fiction and non-fiction. Her work explores themes of race, sexuality, gender and injustice. She is a social activist and founder of the newspaper “Our Lives.” She has been deeply involved in women issues and was the former chair of the Women's Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. She also advocates for immigrant rights.

Brand has taught at a number of universities including at the: University of Guelph, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver Island University and at St Lawrence University, in New York. She has also worked as a poetry editor at McClelland and Stewart, which is owned by Penguin Random House.

Ms. Brand’s other works of poetry include: Fore Day Morning (1978), Earth Magic (1979), Primitive Offensive (1982), Winter Epigrams and Epigrams to Ernesto Cardenal in Defense of Claudia (1983), Chronicles of the Hostile Sun (1984), No Language is Neutral (1990) Land to Light On (1997) thirsty (2002), and Inventory (2006).

Brand’s works of fiction includes: Sans Souci and Other Stories (1988), In Another Place, Not Here (1996), At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999), What We All Long For (2005), Love Enough (2014) and Theory (2018).

Her non-fiction works include: Rivers have sources, trees have roots: speaking of racism (1986), No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s-1950s (1991), Imagination, Representation, and Culture (1994), We're Rooted Here and They Can't Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women's History (1994), Bread Out of Stone: Recollections on Sex, Recognitions, Race, Dreaming and Politics (1994), A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (2001) and A Kind of Perfect Speech (2008).

In addition, Ms. Brand has made several documentaries partnering with the Nation Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s Studio D—a feminist film production unit. These works include: Older, Stronger, Wiser (1989), Sisters in the Struggle (1991), Long Time Comin'(1991), Listening for Something (1996), Beyond Borders: Arab Feminists Talk About Their Lives ... East and West (1999), Under One Sky: Arab Women in North America Talk About the Hijab (1999) and Borderless: A Docu-Drama About the Lives of Undocumented Workers (2006).

Brand has won numerous awards for her work including: the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (1997), Trillium Book Award (1997), Pat Lowther Award (2003), City of Toronto Book Award (2006), Harbourfront Festival Prize (2006) Griffin Poetry Prize (2011) and the Blue Metropolis Violet Prize (2019).

In 2009, Brand became Toronto’s third Poet Laureate, and held that distinction until 2012. In 2017, she was awarded Canada’s second highest national medal: Member of the Order of Canada, second only to the Order of Merit. If Ms. Brand wins the 2019 Griffin Prize, it would be the second time she won this prestigious poetry prize. She first won the award in 2011, for her 2010 book “Ossuaries.”

In awarding her the 2011 Griffin Prize for “Ossuaries,” the judges stated “What Dionne Brand has done in Ossuaries is amazing. Working with a novel-length narrative about the life of an activist named Yasmine, who lives an underground existence on various continents, she has constructed a long poem, which is not a traditional seamless epic, nor a Poundian extended collage, but something else that seems quite new. The most remarkable part of her achievement is that in fulfilling the novelistic narrative ambition of her work, she has not sacrificed the tight lyrical coil of the poetic line. The story vaults us ahead with its emerging and receding characters, its passions and dramas, which include a violent bank robbery and tense escape, while each line holds us and demands we admire its complex beauties. The sensation of hurtling and, at the same time, being caught is uncanny. Brand’s innovation on Ossuaries calls forth an entirely new sort of reading. The book is a triumph.”

In a 2018 interview, Brand said the following about literature, “Literature is a beautiful thing. I’ve been lucky to have happened upon language as a way of trying to describe the world as a full act, as the act of a carpenter trying to make a floor. I think of language like a material, like a metal or a mineral, that I’ve been able to and lucky to have to shape what I am seeing.” In the “Blue Clerk,” Brand says, “Poetry can expose the heterogenous qualities of a life, or of life, in an age which all the efforts both corporate and state, seem to homogenize.” The 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize will be awarded on June 6.

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