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A Record of Literary History: Best Canadian Poetry 2020

Best Canadian Poetry 2020 is out now, featuring work by poets including Amber Dawn, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Tim Bowling, Ivan Coyote, Louise Bernice Halfe–Sky Dancer, Tanis MacDonald, Nyla Matuk, Jason Purcell, Armand Garnet Ruffo, Robyn Sarah, Kevin Spenst, John Elizabeth Stintzi, and more.

Guest Editor Marilyn Dumont writes about her vision for the anthology in her introduction to the book, which we're pleased to excerpt here today. 

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Before taking on the task of guest-editing Best Canadian Poetry 2020, I had no idea how poems were identified for such an anthology, despite habitually acquiring collections on an annual basis myself. I avidly purchased anthologies throughout the years, and whether I agreed with the anthol­ogist on their yearly selection of poems or not, I always found anthologies instructive because of their capacity to curate a collection of poems that have spoken to a particular poet’s aes­thetic at a specific time in the literary history of a country. If I consider the number of volumes in my bookshelf with the word “best” in the title, there seems to be no end of the desire to isolate what warrants merit among the genres.

Anthologists are not search engines generating a reposi­tory of merit in collections, but instead are human bein …

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Launchpad: NOOPIMING, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

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Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.

LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today we're launching Noopiming: The Cure For White Ladies, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, which is being championed by Megan Gail Coles, who writes: 

"Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies is likely the most admirably audacious novel of the year. With each publication, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson re-establishes herself as a revolutionary writer willing to take innovative risks in order to communicate bold intentions that challenge damaging colonial narratives.

"In her most recent book, she centres relationality so thoroughly as to destabilize even the reader's limiting preconception of how words must be laid out upon the page. This is bold storytelling drawing upon a rich history to present a possible future. Simpson is generously gifting readers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, with an opportunity to engage in the necessary difficult work of further decolonizing our minds.

"I have decided t …

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Launchpad: One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet, by Anuradha Rao

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This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet, which Elizabeth May calls "a book to be celebrated and shared!”

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The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

One Earth is a nonfiction book with colour photos that tells the stories of 20 Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are environmental defenders.

Describe your ideal reader.

Loves nature and/or is looking for diverse role models. Perhaps doesn’t tend to see themselves reflected enough in popular media, and …

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Reconciliation Through Education: Reading Jesse Thistle's From the Ashes with Senior Grades

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!
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Jesse Thistle’s memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way, took me on a heartbreaking journey of his life as a homeless Indigenous man. His resilience as he battled substance abuse and poverty (and eventually earned his GED in jail) was just part of this courageous story. Although there are many reasons to cheer Thistle on as he struggles to overcome intergenerational trauma, I was drawn in by the honesty of his writing.

This is not an easy story to read and I’d encourage grade 11 and 12 students to read it but still caution teenagers (16+) that there are many difficult aspects to Thistle’s life story that could be upsetting for them. However, the focus on the power of relationships and education shines through. In a CBC interview, the author said, “It was painful, but it was also very beautiful. These were really hard, painful, sharp memories. But I also saw there were people that were trying to help me, like the kind shop owner who gave me food or my friend at the shelter who watched out for my shoes. My brother Jerry always took care of me and took me in …

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The Chat with Governor General's Literary Award Winner Gwen Benaway

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Next up in our special 2019 Governor General’s Award edition of The Chat is our conversation with Gwen Benaway. Her collection Holy Wild won this year’s Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

According to the jury, "These confessional yet sometimes difficult poems about the Indigenous trans body are lyrical, rhythmic and fierce. It was an extraordinary experience reading this burning, honest manifesto. In her poem 'A Love Letter for Trans Girls,' Benaway says, ‘welcome to the first day of forever… you are enough.'"

Gwen Benaway is a trans girl of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She is the author of previous poetry collections Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage. Holy Wild was also named a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry, and the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature, and longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Benaway is also the editor of an anthology of fantasy short stories titled Maiden Mother and Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes. She has been a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ writers from the Writers' Trust of Canada, and her personal essay, "A Body Like A Home," was the Gold Prize Winner for the National Magazine Awards in Personal Journa …

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Celebrating & Exploring Indigenous Languages Through Literature

Twice a month, we invite an educator to share their perspective on essential books for your classroom. To apply to become a contributor, please send us an email!

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Indigenous languages are an important aspect of daily life in Canada. Many provinces, town and city names, landmarks, and bodies of water are identified by words in Indigenous languages. Cities such as Toronto (Tkaronto) or Ottawa (Odawa) are named using Indigenous languages. Meaning behind these words needs to be celebrated and explored in a respectful manner. Through literature and connecting with Indigenous communities, Indigenous languages can be supported and honoured in the classroom.

The year 2019 was designated the “International Year of indigenous languages (#IYIL2019)” by the United Nations in an effort to acknowledge and raise awareness of Indigenous languages worldwide. Indigenous languages “foster and promote unique local cultures, customs, and values which have endured for thousands of years.” In addition, “Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.”

According to the United Nations statement “Celebrating IYIL2019 will help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak them.“ It will also support the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Canada adopted the declaration in 2016.

In Canada, there are over 60 different Indige …

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Shelf Talkers: Whispering Words to Hasten Spring's Arrival

I don’t want to jinx anything, but it needs to be said: Happy Spring!

I’m knocking wood, just to be safe.

This is, I think you’ll agree, an unusual spring. Usually, the vernal equinox signals a period of regrowth, of blossoming, of fresh green in the trees and t-shirts worn outside, without a parka!

This year, though, spring is a bit different. Across the country, it’s been greeted with whispered questions: Can it be? Is the long winter of our discontent finally over?

Spring has limped late even into Victoria. To the cheer of our social media friends, we had snow in March. Snow. In Victoria. In March.

That sort of thing will mess with the cherry blossoms.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, embrace the season, the spirit of renewal.

Here in the Shelf Talkers column, we have a round-up of books for your spring reading pleasure. And, in keeping with the theme, we have a couple of new booksellers aboard, offering their choices from Peterborough and the Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories.

We have fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult books, even a little something for poetry month.

You might say we’re blossoming (so long as you knock wood while you say it).

So let’s all get out there and enjoy the spring, maybe hitting up an independent bookstore while you’re out.

But you might want to wear a hoodie; there’s no reason to go all crazy.

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The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)

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The Chat with Shannon Webb-Campbell

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Today on The Chat, we’re in conversation with poet Shannon Webb-Campbell. Webb-Campbell recently released her latest collection, I am a Body of Land (Book*hug).

Praising the collection, author Carole Rose Daniels says, “Shannon Webb-Campbell’s work forces readers out of polite conversation and into a realm where despair and hard truths are being told, being heard and finding the emotional strength to learn from it, find our way out and embrace our beauty as Indigenous women.”

Shannon Webb-Campbell is a mixed-Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) settler poet, writer, and critic currently based in Montreal. Her first book, Still No Word (2015) was the inaugural recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award. She was Canadian Women in the Literary Arts Critic-in-Residence in 2014, and sits on Canadian Women in the Literary Arts board of directors. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, journals and publications across Canada including The Globe and Mail, Geist Magazine, The Malahat Review, Canadian Literature, Room, and Quill and Quire.

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THE CHAT WITH SH …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Get Dancing

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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These picture books can’t teach you how to dance but they can inspire you. In the curriculum on dance, students are required to create and present, reflect, respond, and analyze, as well as explore forms and cultural contexts of dance. The following stories include dance forms from First Nations, China, Japan, as well as ballet and a few dance-inspired texts.

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Secret of the Dance, by Andrea Spalding and Alfred Scow, illustrated by Darlene Gait, is based on a true story from Scow's childhood. Now Elder of the Kwakwa'wakw Nation and a retired judge, Scow was a nine-year-old Watl'kina in 1935 when his family travelled in secrecy to perform a potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony sacred in Indigenous culture that was banned by the Canadian government. Watl’kina and his sisters aren't permitted to attend the ceremony—if caught, the children could be taken away by authorities. But at the sound of drumming, Watl'kina sneaks out of bed and sees masked figures dancing stories by firelight. He recognizes one dancer as his father, which turns out to be the last time he ever sees his father dance. As a grownup, Scow reflects on the repealed law and how strange it is that t …

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The Chat with Governor General's Award Winner Darrel J. McLeod

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Today we're pleased to share this interview with Darrel J. McLeod, who won this year’s Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction for his memoir Masmaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age (Douglas & McIntyre).

The peer assessment committee says "Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age dares to immerse readers in provocative contemporary issues including gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength.”

Darrel J. McLeod is Cree from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Before pursuing a writing career, he was a chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations. He holds degrees in French literature and Education from the University of British Columbia. Darrel has written a sequel to Mamaskatch, which has the working title Peyakow, and is currently writing his first novel. Darrel lives, writes, sings, and plays jazz guitar in Sooke B.C. He is fluent in French and Spanish.

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THE CHAT WITH DARREL J. MCLEOD

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Radical Acts: An Interview with Andrea Warner

Andrea Warner follows up her fantastic debut, We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music, with Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, and here she talks to us about the challenges of biography, chronology, and the experience of working with a music legend. 

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49th Shelf: “My God, how does one write a Biography?” wrote Virginia Woolf once, and she’s just one of many writers who’ve struggled with the genre. I imagine it’s a bit easier, however, when you’ve got the person you’re writing about telling stories down the telephone and reading over your manuscript, offering clarity and answering questions. Do you think you could have written this book without Buffy Sainte-Marie being a partner in the project? Would you have wanted to? 

Andrea Warner: I wouldn’t have done this without Buffy’s consent and support. Her voice is essential and so powerful. This is her life story and she doesn’t really need me to do tell it. She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’s an amazing storyteller. But what I can do as a writer and as a feminist music critic who has spent years writing about Buffy’s music and the music business is provide a framework for her story and contextualize her journey so far. 

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She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, …

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Rooster Town: The History of an Urban Métis Community

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Rooster Town: The History of an Urban Métis Community, by Evelyn Peters, Adrian Werner and Matthew Stock, documents a history of Indigenous urban experience in the Métis community of Rooster Town on the outskirts of southwest Winnipeg. In this list, Peters shares other works that explore the important colonial history of First Nations and Métis communities within urban areas in Canada. 

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In 1901, sixteen Métis households moved into southwest Winnipeg joining six Métis families who had moved there a few years before. They squatted on unserviced lots which had reverted to the City of Winnipeg for unpaid taxes. While the settlement contracted slightly during the Great Depression, Rooster Town grew every year until in 1946 the community reached its maximum size of 59 households, with an estimated population of more the 250 people. Poverty and unstable employment meant that squatting or buying inexpensive land on the city fringe, and self-building, was a resilient strategy for accessing urban employment and services and providing housing for families. 

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Poverty and unstable employment meant that squatting or buying inexpensive land on the city fringe, and self-building, was a resilient strategy for accessing urban employment and services and providing housing fo …

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