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Dionne Brand

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Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand (born January 7, 1953) is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist and documentarian. She was Toronto's third Poet Laureate from September 2009 to November 2012.[1][2][3]


  • Biography 1
  • Academic career 2
  • Writing 3
    • Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots 3.1
    • St. Mary Estate 3.2
  • This Body For Itself 4
    • Other themes 4.1
  • Critical reception 5
  • Awards and honours 6
  • Bibliography 7
    • Poetry 7.1
    • Fiction 7.2
    • Non-fiction 7.3
    • Documentaries 7.4
    • Anthologies edited 7.5
  • Sources 8
  • Additional reading 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Dionne Brand was born in Guayaguayare, Trinidad and Tobago. She graduated from Naparima Girls' High School in 1970, and emigrated to Canada to attend the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1975.[4] Brand later attained a MA (1989) from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

Academic career

Brand has held a number of academic positions, including:


Brand explores themes of gender, race, sexuality and feminism, white male domination, injustices and "the moral hypocrisies of Canada" [5] Despite being often characterized as a Caribbean writer, Brand identifies as a 'black Canadian'.[6]

She has contributed to many anthologies opposing the violent killings of Black men and women, the massacre of fourteen women in Montreal and racism and inequality as experienced by Aboriginal women of Canada, particularly Helen Betty Osborne's death in the Pas.[5]

In his book Black Like Who?, Rinaldo Walcott includes two essays ("A Tough Geography": Towards a Poetics of Black Space(s) in Canada and "No Language is Neutral": The Politics of Performativity in M. Nourbese Philip's and Dionne Brand's Poetry) on Brand's poetry and the principal themes of her work.[7] (Brand herself had previously used a line from Derek Walcott to title her collection No Language is Neutral, in which she "uses language to disturb" in poetry containing biographic meaning ancestral references.)[8] Brand believes that "by addressing real power can we begin to deal with racism", by participating in economic and political power.[9]

Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots

In Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots (1986), Brand and co-author Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta interviewed a hundred people from the Canadian Native, Black, Chinese, and South Asian communities about their perceptions of racism and its impact on their lives. The authors critiqued the existence and ubiquity of racism, disparities and resistance, arguing that two themes exist where racism prevails in their interviewees' lives: through "the culture of racism" and through structural and institutional ways.

"Rivers" gives each individual an opportunity to speak about his or her personal and migration story. The interviewees speak of their anger, resentments, and complaints of being treated as different and inferior. Brand sees racism as a powerful tool to censor oppositional voices and disagrees with the conception of racism as isolated or unusual.[10]

St. Mary Estate

Personal experience and ancestral memory[5] inform her short story, "St. Mary Estate",[11] from, Sans Souci and Other Stories, pp. 360–366, The narrator, accompanied by her sister, revisits the cocoa estate of their birth and childhood, recalling past experiences of racism and shame. She focuses on the summer beach house belonging to "rich whites" that was cleaned by their father, the overseer slave. Her anger over discrimination and poverty is triggered by the recollection of living quarters made of thin cardboard with newspapers walls - barracks that depict the physical, social and psychological degradation endured by the slaves who were denied the basic human rights and freedom.

This Body For Itself

In “This Body For Itself” (1994), in Bread Out of Stone Brand discusses the way the black female body is represented. She asserts that in male authored texts, the black female body is often portrayed as motherly or virginal. In female authored texts, the black female body is often portrayed as protector and/or resistor to rape. Brand states that it is understandable why this happens. The avoidance of portraying black female bodies as sexual is out of self-preservation, as black female bodies are often overly sexualized in their portrayal. However, Brand argues that this self-preservation is a trap, because desire and sexuality can be a great source of power, and suppressing this only further suppresses female power to own their own desire. She writes, “The most radical strategy of the female body for itself is the lesbian body confessing all the desire and fascination for itself” (108).[12]

Other themes

Other topics addressed in Brand's writing include the sexual exploitation of African women. Brand says, "We are born thinking of travelling back", .[13] She writes: "Listen, I am a Black woman whose ancestors were brought to a new world laying tightly packed in ships. Fifteen million of them survived the voyage, five million of them women; millions among them died, were killed, committed suicide in the middle passage." [5]

Brand has received numerous awards. Writer Myrian Chancy says Brand found "it possible engage in personal/critical work which uncovers the connections between us as Black women at the same time as re-discovering that which has been kept from us: our cultural heritage, the language of our grandmothers, ourselves."[14]

Critical reception

Critics of Brand's early work focused on Caribbean national and cultural identity and Caribbean literary theory. Barbadian poet and scholar Edward Kamau Brathwaite referred to Brand as "our first major exile female poet."[15] Academic J. Edward Chamberlain called her "a final witness to the experience of migration and exile" whose "literary inheritance is in some genuine measure West Indian, a legacy of [Derek] Walcott, Brathwaite and others."[16] They cite her own and others’ shifting locations, both literal and theoretical.

Peter Dickinson argues that "Brand 'reterritorializes' … boundaries in her writing, (dis)placing or (dis)locating the national narrative of subjectivity … into the diaspora of cross-cultural, -racial, -gender, -class, and –erotic identifications."[17] Dickinson calls these shifts in her conceptualization of national and personal affiliations "the politics of location [which] cannot be separated from the politics of 'production and reception.'"[18] Critic Leslie Sanders argues that, in her ongoing exploration of the notions of "here" and "there", Brand uses her own "statelessness"[19] as a vehicle for entering "'other people's experience'" and "'other places.'"[20] In Sanders’ words, "by becoming a Canadian writer, Brand is extending the Canadian identity in a way [Marshall] McLuhan would recognize and applaud."[21] But, Dickinson says, "Because Brand's 'here' is necessarily mediated, provisional, evanescent – in a word 'unlocatable' – her work remains marginal/marginalizable in academic discussions of Canadian literary canons."[22]

In Redefining the Subject: Sites of Play in Canadian Women's Writing, Charlotte Sturgess suggests that Brand employs a language "through which identity emerges as a mobile, thus discursive, construct."[23] Sturgess argues that Brand's "work uses language strategically, as a wedge to split European traditions, forms and aesthetics apart; to drive them onto their own borders and contradictions."[24] Sturgess says Brand's work is at least two-pronged: it "underline[s] the enduring ties of colonialism within contemporary society;"[25] and it "investigates the very possibilities of Black, female self-representation in Canadian cultural space."[24]

Italian academic and theorist Franca Bernabei writes in the preamble to Luce ostinata/Tenacious Light (2007), the Italian-English selected anthology of Brand's poetry, that "Brand's poetic production reveals a remarkable variety of formal-stylistic strategies and semantic richness as well as the ongoing pursuit of a voice and a language that embody her political, affective, and aesthetic engagement with the human condition of the black woman—and, more exactly, all those oppressed by the hegemonic program of modernity."[26] The editor and critic Constance Rooke calls Brand "one of the very best [poets] in the world today", and "compare[s] her to Pablo Neruda or—in fiction—to José Saramago."

Awards and honours

Brand's awards include:



  • 1978: Fore Day Morning: Poems. Toronto: Khoisan Artists, ISBN 0-920662-02-1
  • 1979: Earth Magic. Toronto: Kids Can Press, ISBN 0-919964-25-7
  • 1982: Primitive Offensive. Toronto: Williams-Wallace International Inc., ISBN 0-88795-012-4
  • 1983: Winter Epigrams and Epigrams to Ernesto Cardenal in Defense of Claudia. Toronto: Williams-Wallace International Inc., ISBN 0-676-97101-6
  • 1984: Chronicles of the Hostile Sun. Toronto: Williams-Wallace, ISBN 0-88795-033-7
  • 1990: No Language is Neutral. Toronto: Coach House Press, ISBN 0-88910-395-X; McClelland & Stewart, 1998, ISBN 0-7710-1646-8
  • 1997: Land to Light On. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-1645-X
  • 2002: thirsty. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-1644-1 (shortlisted for the 2003 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • , online at CBC Words at LargethirstyExcerpt from
  • 2006: Inventory. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-7710-1662-2
  • , online at CBC Words at LargeInventoryExcerpt from
  • 2010: Ossuaries - 2010 (McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-7710-1736-0) (winner of the 2011 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize and Pat Lowther Award)


  • 1988: Sans Souci and Other Stories. Stratford, ON: Williams-Wallace, ISBN 0-88795-072-8 and ISBN 0-88795-073-6
  • 1996: In Another Place, Not Here. Toronto: Knopf Canada, ISBN 0-394-28158-6
  • 1999: At the Full and Change of the Moon. Toronto: Knopf Canada, ISBN 0-394-28158-6
  • 2005: What We All Long For. Toronto: Knopf Canada, ISBN 978-0-676-97693-9
  • 2014: Love Enough. Toronto: Knopf Canada, ISBN 978-0-345-80888-2


  • 1986: Rivers have sources, trees have roots: speaking of racism (with Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta). Toronto: Cross Cultural Communications Centre, ISBN 0-9691060-6-8
  • 1991: No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s-1950s (with Lois De Shield). Toronto: Women's Press, ISBN 0-88961-163-7
  • 1994: Imagination, Representation, and Culture
  • 1994: We're Rooted Here and They Can't Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women's History (with Peggy Bristow, Linda Carty, Afua P. Cooper, Sylvia Hamilton, and Adrienne Shadd). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-5943-0 and ISBN 0-8020-6881-2
  • 1994: Bread Out of Stone: Recollections on Sex, Recognitions, Race, Dreaming and Politics. Toronto: Coach House Press, ISBN 0-88910-492-1; Toronto: Vintage, 1998, ISBN 0-676-97158-X
  • 2001: A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Random House Canada, ISBN 978-0-385-25892-0 and ISBN 0-385-25892-5
  • 2008: A Kind of Perfect Speech: The Ralph Gustafson Lecture Malaspina University-College 19 October 2006. Nanaimo, BC: Institute for Coastal Research Publishing, ISBN 978-1-896886-05-3


Anthologies edited

  • 2007: The Journey Prize Stories: The Best of Canada's New Stories (with Caroline Adderson and David Bezmozqis, comps. and eds). Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-7710-9561-0


  • Amin, Nuzhat et al. Canadian Woman Studies: An Introductory Reader. Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education Inc. 1999.
  • Brand, Dionne. "Bread out of Stone", in Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor Wachtel (eds), Language In Her Eye, Toronto: Coach House Press. 1990.
  • Brand, Dionne. No Language is Neutral. Toronto: Coach House Press. 1990.
  • Brand, Dionne. Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism (1986) with Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta. Toronto: Cross Communication Centre 1986.
  • Brand, Dionne. "St. Mary Estate," in Eva C. Karpinski and Ian Lea (eds), Pens of Many Colours: A Canadian Reader (1993), Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada Inc. 1993.
  • Brand, Dionne. "Just Rain, Bacolet"[30]
  • Kamboureli, Smaro. Making A Difference: Canadian Multicultual Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press. 1996.

Additional reading

Birkett, Mary F. Rev. of Earth Magic, by Dionne Brand. School Library Journal 27.3 (1980): 83.

Dalleo, Raphael. “Post-Grenada, Post-Cuba, Postcolonial: Rethinking Revolutionary Discourse in Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 12.1 (2010): 64–73.

Dickinson, Peter. “‘In Another Place, Not Here’: Dionne Brand’s Politics of (Dis) Location.” Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Construc- tion of Canada. Ed. Veronica Strong-Bong, Sherrill Grace, Avigail Eisenberg, and Joan Anderson. Vancouver, BC: U of British Columbia P, 1998. 113–29.

Fraser, Kaya. “Language to Light On: Dionne Brand and the Rebellious Word.” Studies in Canadian Literature 30.1 (2005): 291–308.

Machado Sáez, Elena (2015), "Messy Intimacies: Postcolonial Romance in Ana Menéndez, Dionne Brand, and Monique Roffey", Market Aesthetics: The Purchase of the Past in Caribbean Diasporic Fiction, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press,

  • Canadian Poetry Online: Dionne Brand - Biography and two poems (I from Thirsty and II from Inventory)
  • Dionne Brand's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia
  • Griffin Poetry Prize biography
  • Griffin Poetry Prize readings, including video clips

External links

  1. ^ O'Toole, Megan (30 September 2009). "Dionne Brand is city's new poet laureate". National Post. Retrieved 1 October 2009. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Dionne Brand: Biography", Canadian poetry online, University of Toronto Libraries.
  4. ^ "Dionne Brand, Biography / Criticism", Voices from the Gaps, University of Minnesota.
  5. ^ a b c d Brand, Dionne. "Bread out of Stone", in Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor Wachtel (eds), Language In Her Eye, Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990.
  6. ^ Condé, Mary (1999). Condé, Mary; Lonsdale, Thorunn, eds. Caribbean Women Writers: Fiction in English. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 1.  
  7. ^ Walcott, Rinaldo. Black Like Who? Toronto: Insomniac Press, 1997.
  8. ^ Brand, Dionne. No Language is Neutral. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990.
  9. ^ Kamboureli, Smaro, Making A Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature, Toronto: Oxford University Press. 1996.
  10. ^ Brand, Dionne, Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism (with Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta). Toronto: Cross Communication Centre. 1986.
  11. ^ Dionne Brand. "St. Mary Estate", in Eva C. Karpinski and Ian Lea (eds), Pens of Many Colours: A Canadian Reader (1993), Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanvich Canada Inc. 1993.
  12. ^ Brand, Dionne (1994). "This Body For Itself". Bread Out of Stone. 
  13. ^ Brand, Dionne, "Just Rain, Bacolet". In Constance Rooke (ed.), Writing Away: the PEN Canada Travel Anthology, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc. 1994.
  14. ^ Amin, Nuzhat et al. Canadian Woman Studies: An Introductory Reader. Toronto: Inanna Publications and Education Inc. 1999.
  15. ^ Brathwaite, Edward Kamau (1985). "Dionne Brand's Winter Epigrams" in Canadian Literature 105. p. 18.
  16. ^ Chamberlain, J. Edward (1993). Come Back to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies. Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, p. 266; p. 269.
  17. ^ Dickinson, Peter; Veronica Strong-Boag, et al. (eds). (1998), "'In Another Place, Not Here': Dionne Brand's Politics of (Dis)Location" in Painting the Maple: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Construction of Canada. Vancouver, UBC Press, p. 114.
  18. ^ Dickinson, Peter. (1998), 117
  19. ^ Sanders, Leslie (1989). "'I am stateless anyway': The Poetry of Dionne Brand" in Zora Neale Hurston Forum 3 (2), p. 20.
  20. ^ Sanders, Leslie (1989), p. 26.
  21. ^ Sanders, Leslie (1989), p. 20.
  22. ^ Dickinson, Peter (1998), pp. 119-120.
  23. ^ Sturgess, Charlotte (2003). Redefining the Subject: Sites of Play in Canadian Women's Writing. Amsterdam and New York: Éditions Rodopi B.V., p. 51.
  24. ^ a b Sturgess, Charlotte (2003), p. 53.
  25. ^ Sturgess, Charlotte (2003), p. 58
  26. ^ Bernabei, Franca (2007). "Testimonianze/Appreciations" in Luce ostinata/Tenacious Light. Ravenna, IT: A. Longo Editore snc, p. 6.
  27. ^ "Dionne Brand, Griffin Poetry Prize 2011, Canadian Winner".
  28. ^ Mark Medley, "Dionne Brand, Gjertrud Schnackenberg win Griffin Poetry Prize", Afterword, June 1, 2011.
  29. ^ "Dionne Brand among Griffin poetry finalists". CBC News. 5 April 2011. 
  30. ^ In Constance Rooke (ed.), Writing Away: the PEN Canada Travel Anthology, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc. 1994.


Thorpe, Michael. Rev. of In Another Place, Not Here, by Dionne Brand. World Literature Today 22 Mar. 1997.,+Not+Here.-a019918604.

Saul, Joanne. “‘In the Middle of Becoming’: Dionne Brand’s Historical Vision.” Canadian Woman Studies 23.2 (2004): 59–63.

Russell, Catherine. Rev. of Primitive Offensive, by Dionne Brand. Quill and Quire 49.9 (1983): 76.

Quigley, Ellen. “Picking the Deadlock of Legitimacy: Dionne Brand’s ‘Noise Like the World Cracking.’” Canadian Literature 186 (2005): 48–67.

McCallum, Pamela, and Christian Olbey. “Written in the Scars: History, Genre and Materiality in Dionne Brand’s In Another Place, Not Here.” Essays on Caribbean Writing 68 (1999): 159–83.


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