Dionne Brand is best known for her poetry, of which she has published several volumes, including Land to Light On (1997), which won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for Poetry; thirsty (2002), which won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award; Inventory (2006); and Ossuaries (2010), which won Brand the 2011 GRIFFIN POETRY PRIZE. Her poetry is characterized by formal and linguistic experimentation in her endeavour to articulate with honesty and passion the experience of an immigrant woman of colour in Canada. In her well-known long poem "No Language Is Neutral" (1990), Brand meditates on her "escape" from Trinidad to Canada, where language can be just as enslaving and where her history is just as obscured by others' (whites', men's, heterosexuals') master narratives: "History will only hear you if you give birth to a / woman who smoothes starched linen in the wardrobe / drawer," she writes, "and who gives birth to a woman who is a / poet, and, even then." Accordingly, Brand's work challenges attempts to stabilize and fix boundaries of identity, whether personal or national.
Brand's fiction includes the short-story collection San Souci and Other Stories (1989) and the novels At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999) and What We All Long For (2005), which won the Toronto Book Award for its charged, challenging and lyrical examination of belonging in a multicultural city. Her first novel, In Another Place, Not Here (1996, New York Times Notable Book 1998), tells the story of two Caribbean women, one who wishes to escape from the islands to the city to attain a life of independence, and the other who returns to the islands from Toronto to effect political change: both women long to be "in another place, not here." Their mutual feelings of cultural displacement bring them together, for a time, as lovers. Like her poetry, much of Brand's fiction is lyrical and rhetorically innovative, full of sumptuous imagery and vivid evocations of her protagonists' wide range of experiences and emotional states.
Dionne Brand is also a prolific writer of non-fiction, including No Burden to Carry (1991), a book of oral histories of Black women in Ontario, Bread Out of Stone (1994), a book of critical essays on gender and race issues in Canada, and A Map to the Door of No Return (2001), a self-reflexive meditation on memory, identity, and the history of the African diaspora. For Brand, "the Door of No Return" is a "fissure between the past and the present," a place where her ancestors departed "the Old World for the New." The book is her attempt to draw a "map" of that unchartered territory, to "explore" her ancestry as a woman of colour in Canada.
In addition to her contributions to dozens of anthologies and journals, Brand has also written or co-directed films for the NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA, including Older, Stronger, Wiser (1989) and Sisters in the Struggle (1991), portraits of influential Canadian women of colour. She is also a committed social activist, critiquing economic and political power structures and speaking against RACISM, DISCRIMINATION against WOMEN, and discrimination against gay and lesbian communities (see HOMOSEXUALITY). Among other projects, she has worked as a counsellor at the Toronto Immigrant Women's Centre, and she is a founding member of Our Lives, Canada's first newspaper devoted to Black women.
Dionne Brand has taught literature and creative writing in Ontario and British Columbia. She has also been a Distinguished Visiting Professor at St. Lawrence University in New York and has held the Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair in Women's Studies at SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY. She currently holds a University Research Chair in English and Creative Writing at the UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH. She was made a Fellow of the ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA in 2006 and appointed Poet Laureate of Toronto in 2009.
Author ROBERT G. MAY
Links to Other Sites
The Griffin Poetry Prize
The Griffin Poetry Prizes are awarded annually for the best collections of poetry in English published during the preceding year. One prize goes to a living Canadian poet or translator, the other to a living poet or translator from any country, which may include Canada.
Information page for the Dionne Brand fonds at Library and Archives Canada.
A profile of the prolific cross-genre writer Dionne Brand. Includes links to bibliographies of her works and references about this award-winning author. From athabascau.ca.
Poet Dionne Brand reads from Coal and Roses, by P.K. Page
See Dionne Brand read P.K. Page's "The Blue Guitar." From YouTube.
What We All Long For
A review of Dionne Brand's novel "What We All Long For" by David Chariandy (Simon Fraser University).
Unsettling Voices: Dionne Brand’s Cosmopolitan Cities
A detailed analysis of the concept of "contemporary cosmopolitanism," a central theme of Dionne Brand's book "What We All Long For." A University of Manitoba website.
What We All Long For
A synopsis of Dionne Brand's novel "What We All Long For" from Random House of Canada.
Toronto Book Awards: What We All Long For
See a brief profile of Dionne Brand and an excerpt from her award-winning novel "What We All Long For." From the City of Toronto website.
“Struggle Work”: Global and Urban Citizenship in Dionne Brand’s "What We All Long For"
A critical analysis of major themes in Dionne Brand's 2005 novel "What We All Long For." From the University of New Brunswick website.
Portraits of the Artist in Dionne Brand's "What We All Long For and Madeleine Thien's "Certainty"
An academic paper that examines how "writers tackle the role of the artist in contemporary Canada" with reference to Dionne Brand's "What We All Long For and Madeleine Thien's "Certainty." From the University of Manitoba website.