Saturday, 9 February 2019

Emerging Black Women Writers Chart Their Course in Canadian Literature

By Neil Armstrong

Left-right: Clifton Joseph in conversation with Téa Mutonji and Simone Dalton at the Black and Caribbean Book Affair at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto.

Two of Toronto’s dynamic emerging black women writers were featured at the Black and Caribbean Book Affair organized by A Different Booklist to celebrate Black History Month.

Simone Dalton and Téa Mutonji, who studied and specialize in nonfiction, were in conversation with award-winning dub poet, journalist and broadcaster Clifton Joseph at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in Toronto on February 8.

Dalton, who is sometimes published as Simone Makeba Dalton, is a writer and social change communicator.

She holds an MFA from the University of Guelph, where she received the Constance Rooke and Board of Graduate Studies Research Scholarships.

Her work has been published in the anthologies The Unpublished City: Volume I and Black Writers Matter -- an anthology of African Canadian creative non-fiction featuring works from established and emerging writers edited by Whitney French -- which will be launched at the Harbourfront Centre on February 20. 

Dalton will be on stage in a discussion at the Black History Month event presented by the International Festival of Authors and Kuumba.

The Unpublished City: Volume I was a 2018 Toronto Book Awards finalist curated by renowned poet, author and professor, Dionne Brand.

Dalton is currently working on her first play for production with RARE Theatre Company.
The world premiere of the company’s “Welcome to My Underworld” features “nine blazing hot works written and performed by new Canadian dramatists with gate-crashing ideas, delicious poetry and unique characters woven into a spectacular journey to the Underworld, in search of the self.”

“These hot new Canadian dramatists bring gatecrashing ideas, serious politics, and fresh bracing language to the stage. They have created current, compelling characters never seen on our stages before, showing us how the very concept of human identity is shifting,” notes a description of the production on Soulpepper’s website. 

The black artists included are: Dalton, a queer Trinidadian-Canadian playwright, and Samson Brown, a self-described, Jamal Of All Hustles, with a primary focus on trans advocacy and the arts.

“Welcome to My Underworld” runs from May 8 to 25 at Soulpepper in Toronto.

Dalton lives in Toronto and was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago where she established the Esther Dalton Foundation —a non-profit  steelpan music initiative - in honour of her mother.

Itah Sadu with Téa Mutonji, Simone Dalton and Clifton Joseph

Mutonji , who was born in Congo, is a writer and poet in Scarborough. She has been awarded and published by The Scarborough Fair in fiction and nonfiction and by the Ontario Book Publishers as Scarborough's emerging writer.

 Mutonji has been published or is forthcoming in Joyland Magazine, The Puritan, Bad Nudes, Minola Review, Temz Review and Train Poetry Journal.

She was the recipient of the Jasun Singh Memorial Award in Creative Writing from The University of Toronto Scarborough.

Her essay, “Street by Street - Anecdotes to My Mother,” was featured in The Unpublished City II published by BookThug and co-edited by Dionne Brand, Canisia Lubrin and Phoebe Wang.

She was awarded the inaugural mentorship and publication opportunity with VS. Books. Her debut collection, Shut Up, You're Pretty, will be out in April. 

Mutonji studied a minor in creative writing at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where she focused primarily on poetry and nonfiction.

“My background is, in fact, in poetry, fiction being a new area of interest for me,” she says.

Beyond her forthcoming book, she is working on a poetry collection tentatively called 2018 and a novel, tentatively called, Love Poem To A Stripper

In their pieces in The Unpublished City collections, there is a recurring theme of lettering. They both also have stories that introspect the relationship between daughter and mother.

Mutonji said writing professionally “just happened.” “I was at the right place at the right the time.”

She said Scarborough has always been a character in her life. When her family immigrated to Canada in 1999 they lived in Scarborough and subsequently moved to Oshawa but Mutonji returned to her first neighbourhood in 2012.

For Dalton, her writing started when she was trying to figure out a number of changes happening in her life. These included coping with her mother’s death, being in a new same-sex relationship and trying to understand her place in the world.

Dalton says in some way she is in everything that she puts out – she describes her work as autobiographical fiction.

Joseph, a founding member of the dub poetry movement in Canada, has performed extensively in North America, Britain and the Caribbean.

He is the author of a book of poems, Metropolitan Blues, an album of poetry and music, Oral Trans/missions, and the video, Pimps. His poems have been included in numerous audio and written anthologies.