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After Canaan

Essays on Race, Writing, and Region

by Wayde Compton

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african american studies
list price: $19.95
category: Social Science
published: 2010
publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
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Association of Book Publishers of BC
Librarian review

After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region

In this collection of essays poet Wayde Compton considers the African Canadian experience in 20th century BC and ways to define race, post-race and multiculturalism in the contemporary world. The article on passing (misrepresenting oneself racially) and phreneticizing (being perceived as of a certain race based on outward appearance) is a fascinating study of our assumptions. Some of the other essays look at the history of African Canadians in Vancouver, how Obama has changed the language of and perspectives on racism, and a consideration Fred Booker and his long quest to find a place as a published writer.

The language is academic and may require support for senior students to unpack some sections. Compton was shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for 49th Parallel Psalm and is the editor of Blueprint: Black British Columbia Literature and Orature.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2011-2012.

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  • Short-listed, Vancouver Book Award
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Finalist, City of Vancouver Book Award

After Canaan, the first nonfiction book by acclaimed Vancouver poet Wayde Compton, repositions the North American discussion of race in the wake of the tumultuous twentieth century. It riffs on the concept of Canada as a promised land (or "Canaan") encoded in African American myth and song since the days of slavery. These varied essays, steeped in a kind of history rarely written about, explore the language of racial misrecognition (a.k.a. "passing"), the subjectivity of black writers in the unblack Pacific northwest, the failure of urban renewal, black and Asian comedy as a counterweight to official multiculturalism, the poetics of hip hop turntablism, and the impact of the Obama phenomenon on the way we speak about race itself. Compton marks the passing of old modes of antiracism and multiculturalism, and points toward what may or may not be a "post-racial" future, but will without doubt be a brave new world of cultural perception.

Written with the same poetic perceptiveness as cultural theorists Rinaldo Walcott and Dionne Brand, After Canaan is a brilliant and thoughtful collection of essays that ought to be required reading for all.

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Editorial Reviews

Wayde Compton is among the most brilliant and accomplished black Canadian writers of his generation, and the release of his first collection of essays is great cause for celebration. After Canaan explores with equal passion and acuity the archives of history and the live acts of contemporary culture. It links a unique landscape of black presence to the most urgent global debates on the politics of race and space. These are exemplary essays: culturally rooted, intellectually borderless, and brimming with soulful style.
-David Chariandy, author of Soucouyant

— David Chariandy

Compton has assembled a varied and nuanced set of essays reflecting on the varied and nuanced state of being black in this corner of North America.
-The Tyee

— The Tyee

The overriding themes in Wayde Compton's poetry, performance art, and writing are hybridity and border crossing. In the Introduction to After Canaan, he says that "looking to the margins rather than the centres has a unique value" because on the periphery "where there are fewer local expectations of what 'the black experience' ought to be, radical experiments of identity can be tried" and "new systems of thought against racism might be expected to emerge." These essays are, first and foremost, essays of ideas rather than style, and Compton's ideas are always fresh and often downright exhilarating.
-Rain Taxi

— Rain Taxi

After Canaan offers an alternative epistemology for thinking about race in Canada ... [It] engages critically and materially with race in a way that hasn't been done before, courageously critiquing Canada's refusal to account for or legitimize the experience of racial ambiguity.
-Quill and Quire (STARRED REVIEW)

— Quill and Quire

In After Canaan, Compton argues--in lucid, compelling prose--for a vigilant racial complexity. In these pages, nothing is as it appears--and the myth of a fixed and essential racial self is shattered forever. Compton pushes us to look beneath the surface--past those comforting tales of nationhood and racial solidarity--to the more nebulous and ever-shifting truth. This is a brilliant and original work that should be mandatory reading for any student of race and history.
-Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia

— Danzy Senna

After Canaan is an important work, and possibly even essential reading, as Compton delves into territory that for so long has been pushed aside, ignored and deliberately overrun. Wayde Compton writes some damned intelligent and thoughtful explorations on the conflux of various points along historical and cultural lines. If you haven't paid attention to his work so far, this is where you need to begin.
-rob mclennan's blog

— rob mclennan's blog

A refreshing remix of scholarly and poetic investigations into the various national myths that have dubbed Canada a "post-racial" nation ... After Canaan arrives at a timely moment in history, offering new writings that re-imagine Canada's interracial milieu.
-Open Book: Toronto

— Open Book: Toronto

An excellent and essential document that asks us to consider many open questions about race and writing in British Columbia and beyond.
-PRISM international


In After Canaan, Compton brings to the essay form all his gifts as a poet, an archivist, an activist, and an intellectual. The result is a beautiful and intelligent collection of essays-a major contribution to black cultural studies in Canada.
-BC Studies

— BC Studies
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About the Author

Wayde Compton

Wayde Compton

Wayde Compton is the author of two books of poetry, 49th Parallel Psalm (Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalist) and Performance Bond. He also edited the anthology Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature. His non-fiction book After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, and his first work of fiction, The Outer Harbour, won the City of Vancouver Book Award. His latest book is the YA graphic novel The Blue Road, illustrated by April dela Noche Milne. Wayde is the former director of the Writer's Studio and the Southbank Writer's Program at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies. He currently teaches in the faculty of Creative Writing at Douglas College. He lives in Vancouver.

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