Brand, Dionne 1953-
BRAND, Dionne 1953-
PERSONAL: Born January 7, 1953, in Guayguayare, Trinidad; immigrated to Canada. Education: University of Toronto, B.A., 1975; Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, graduate study.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Women's Educational Press, 517 College St., Ste. 233, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6G 4A2.
CAREER: Poet, writer, and journalist. Associated with Black Education Project, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Immigrant Women's Centre, Toronto, Caribbean women's health counselor; Agency for Rural Transformation, Grenada, information and communications officer, 1983; Simon Fraser University, Ruth Wynn Wodward Professor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Publisher's Grant and Artist in the Schools Award, both from Ontario Arts Council, 1978; Canada Council Arts Grant, 1980; Ontario Arts Council grant, 1982; Governor General's Award and Trillium Award, both 1997, both for Land to Light On.
'Fore Day Morning (poems), Khoisan Artists, 1978.
Earth Magic (poems), illustrated by Roy Crosse, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.
Primitive Offensive (poems), Williams-Wallace (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.
Winter Epigrams and Epigrams to Ernesto Cardenal in Defense of Claudia (poems), introduction by Roger McTair, Williams-Wallace (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
Chronicles of the Hostile Sun (poems), Williams-Wallace (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.
(With Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta) Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism, Cross Cultural Communication Centre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.
Sans Souci, and Other Stories, Firebrand Books (Ithaca, NY), 1989.
No Language Is Neutral (poems), Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Sisters in Struggle, 1991.
(With Lois De Shield) No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s-1950s, Women's Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Long Time Comin', 1993.
Bread Out of Stone: Recollections, Sex, Recognitions, Race, Dreaming, Politics, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
In Another Place, Not Here (novel), Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Land to Light On (poems), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
At the Full and Change of the Moon (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, Doubleday (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
Thirsty (poems), McClelland and Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
What We All Long For (novel), Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
Contributor to "We're Rooted Here and They Can't Pull Us Up": Essays in African-Canadian Women's History, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994. Contributor to periodicals, including Spear and Contrast.
SIDELIGHTS: "Dionne Brand is one of the best young poets writing in Canada today," Libby Scheier asserted in her Books in Canada review of Brand's collection Primitive Offensive. An essayist for Contemporary Women Poets described Brand's poetry as "the thoughts and feelings of a black female coming to realize her place in history…. Brand's poems speak from the perspective of the outsider—the narrator who, because of race, gender, sexual preference and ethnic background, finds herself at odds with the surrounding society." A native Trinidadian who immigrated to Canada, Brand wrote poetry for many years and gained increasing renown in the late 1990s for two novels that brought her respect from readers in the United States as well as in Canada. She has worked actively for the black community in Canada through her affiliation with the Black Education Project and as a Caribbean counselor with the Immigrant Women's Centre.
Brand was born in Guayguayare, Trinidad, on January 7, 1953. Her family was a complicated and extended one—a "pumpkin-vine family," she told the Montreal Gazette. With her mother and aunt spending several years working in England when she was a child, Brand was largely raised by her grandparents. As a child she was a voracious reader. "I suppose that little girl who lay under the bed and read books was on a journey, one to other consciousness and other worlds," she told a writer for the Gazette. "In that bed I traveled. I read Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, so I was in Paris as a young gay man. I read about the Haitian revolution."
In her 1980 collection Earth Magic, Brand wrote poems depicting a more difficult side of her upbringing in Trinidad, where she worked as an agricultural laborer. When she moved to Canada at age seventeen, Brand enrolled at the University of Toronto, earning a B.A. degree there in 1975 and going on to graduate study at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Brand has made a living as an educator for much of her writing career, spending time in many different parts of Canada, and in several other countries, but maintaining a home base in Toronto.
Brand has also devoted her energies to political activism, working at the Toronto Immigrant Women's Centre as a counselor serving the city's large population of immigrants from the West Indies, serving with a group that sought to improve education for blacks in Canada, and affiliating herself with a labor organization, the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Brand quickly set her sights on writing; her first poetry collection, 'Fore Day Morning, was published in 1978. Some observers have noted a synergy between her writing and her more directly political activities. "To read her poetry is to read not only about her but also about her people, her identification with their struggles both in the metropole of Canada and in the hinterland of the Caribbean," commented Himani Bannerji in Fifty Caribbean Writers. The poetry in No Language Is Neutral, wrote a contributor to Books in Canada, "is one of waking and attentiveness, to one's own history, one's pain as a woman, as an immigrant to the place of foreign habits, to one's own sexuality." In the title poem, Brand explores the lives of women who know "what it means to be black and women and to struggle constantly with that 'blood-stained blind of race and sex.'" The reviewer concluded that the collection contains some of "Brand's most engaging poetry."
In 1983 Brand's political impulses came to the fore once again as she returned to her native Caribbean to serve as information and communications officer for the Agency for Rural Transformation in Grenada. Sans Souci, and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, "follows Brand's own cycle of growing up in Trinidad, moving to Canada as a teenager, and returning to Grenada during the revolution to reconnect politically and spiritually with the Caribbean," reported Rhonda Cobham in the Women's Review of Books. In Cobham's opinion, Brand is a "militantly feminist and anti-imperialist writer." Cobham reported that female sexuality is a prominent theme of this collection, which contains stories of people who struggle to find a place in a world that is racist as well as sexist.
Brand's various academic appointments—including a course she developed for Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, covering the works of African-American writer Toni Morrison—have allowed her to explore the experiences of African peoples through the use of interviews. She edited or coedited two volumes of recollections of African-Canadians and other minorities. Rivers Have Sources, Trees Have Roots: Speaking of Racism, coauthored with Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta, seeks to educate readers against racism through a combination of interviews and "succinct and simply stated analysis," wrote a Canadian Forum contributor. Through the testimony of the book's black, Native American, and Asian subjects, the reader is led to realize that "racism is a deliberate attack on the self-image of the other." The authors also chart some of the history of the struggle against racism in Toronto, and according to the reviewer, Brand and her coauthor "succeed admirably in their educative purpose." In No Burden to Carry, an investigation into the role of black women in Canadian history, Brand uses personal recollections and interviews from fifteen black women. A Books in Canada reviewer found that reading the book "is like spending an afternoon with a roomful of charming, strong, witty women who have a lifetime of stories to share."
Amidst the variety of her literary activities, Brand maintained a focus on poetry. In the 1990s, however, there was a strong demand for high-quality fiction written by black authors, and Brand was one of many writers who addressed herself to filling that demand, signing a two-book contract with Grove Publishing. In her first novel, In Another Place, Not Here, Brand draws upon her own Trinidadian background in depicting Elizete, a sugarcane cutter on an unnamed Caribbean island, and her developing romance with Verlia, a Marxist Canadian labor organizer. Verlia, too, is partly reflective of Brand's own experiences; part of the novel is devoted to the problems women from the Caribbean encounter in Toronto's closed society. Eleanor J. Bader in Library Journal noted that "its plot is less compelling than its poetic, dream-filled musings." A critic for Publishers Weekly believed that "the melding of Elizete's dreams and Verlia's fierce pragmatism achieve a powerful resonance."
In 1999, Brand's second novel, At the Full and Change of the Moon, appeared. In this work Brand succeeded in fusing her political concerns with the popular novel convention of the multi-generation saga. The book is structured around stories told by the descendants of a fictional Trinidadian slave named Marie-Ursule who, in the early nineteenth century, led a group of slaves in a mass suicide but allowed her young daughter to escape. The daughter and her offspring down to the present day remember and recount parts of their grim family history in language that GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist called "dreamlike or nightmarish." Letta Neely, reviewing the novel for the Lambda Book Report, reported: "I felt as if a spell were oozing and flying from the page into the here and now of real-life neglected and caressed remembrances." Michael Arditti in the London Times admitted that Brand "is an acclaimed poet and there are occasions when the poetic impulse dominates at the expense not just of narrative but of character and clarity." But a critic for Publishers Weekly concluded that At the Full and Change of the Moon is "a distinguished, visionary work, grounded in the language and legacy of her native Trinidad."
Brand's 2001 book A Map to the Door of No Return is a personal essay that juxtaposed her own immigration to Canada and travels to other parts of the world with the forced voyage African slaves made to the New World. "It's all about Brand's inability to fit in pretty much anywhere she goes," noted a critic for the Ottawa Citizen. According to Ingrid Johnston in Resource Links, Brand "has created a powerful exploration of identity and belonging in a culturally diverse world." Similarly, Sook C. Kong, writing in Herizons, believed that in A Map to the Door of No Return Brand "embarks on a long journey into the ontological night, taking her reader to the edge between life and death, history and violence, politics and grief."
In 2005, Brand published What We All Long For, a novel set in Toronto that revolves around a group of first-generation Canadians and their immigrant parents.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chancy, Myrian J., Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Women Writers in Exile, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1997.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 32, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Dance, Daryl Cumber, editor, Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Greenwood (Westport, CT), 1986.
Modern Black Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, October, 1996, pp. 97-109; April, 1999, Heather Smyth, "Sexual Citizenship and Caribbean-Canadian Fiction: Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here and Shani Mootoo's Cercus Blooms at Night," p. 141.
Atlantic Monthly, October, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 114.
Black Issues Book Review, January, 2001, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 18.
Booklist, August, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 2023.
Books in Canada, December, 1983, Libby Scheier, review of Primitive Offensive, p. 31; October, 1990, p. 14; December, 1990, pp. 42-43; May, 1992, pp. 52-53; December, 1994, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 16; February, 1995, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 32; September, 1996, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 36; June, 1997, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 3; summer, 2003, review of Thirsty, p. 41.
Books Magazine, Christmas, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 19.
Book World, February 1, 1998, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 6.
Callaloo, summer, 2003, Salamisha Tillet, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 913.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1995, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 253; 1997, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 174; 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 159.
Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, spring, 2003, Ayn Becze, review of A Map To the Door of No Return, p. 210.
Canadian Forum, January, 1988, pp. 39-40; July-August, 1995, Robert Richardson, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 36; May, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 43.
Canadian Literature, autumn, 1996, Guy Beauregard, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 113; summer-autumn, 1999, Susan Gingell, review of Land to Light On, p. 182; winter, 2000, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 178; autumn-winter, 2001, Maureen Moynagh, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 193.
Canadian Woman Studies, summer, 2000, Rinaldo Walcott and Leslie Sanders, "At the Full and Change of CanLit: An Interview with Dionne Brand," p. 22.
Essays on Canadian Writing, winter, 1995, review of No Language Is Neutral, p. 194; summer, 1999, Pamela McCallum and Christian Olbey, "Written in the Scars: History, Genre, and Materiality in Dionne Brand's In Another Place, Not Here," p. 159; spring, 2000, Jason Wiens, "'Language Seemed to Split in Two': National Ambivalence(s) and Dionne Brand's No Language Is Neutral," p. XII.
Essence, October, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 74.
Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), October 10, 2001, p. F3.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 17, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. D18; November 27, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. D26; October 20, 2001, review of A Map to the Door of No Return, p. D4.
Herizons, spring, 2002, Sook C. Kong, review of A Map to the Door of No Return, p. 31.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1997, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 1127; July 1, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 979.
Lambda Book Report, September, 1995, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 45; March, 2000, Letta Neely, "A Hero to Live By," p. 17.
Library Journal, August, 1997, Eleanor J. Bader, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 125; August, 1999, Janis Williams, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 134.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 7, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 4.
Maclean's, June 24, 1996, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 54; June 21, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 52.
Ms. November, 1997, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 85.
New York Times Book Review, January 4, 1998, Catherine Bush, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 12; December 6, 1998, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 23; October 17, 1999, William Ferguson, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 22.
Ottawa Citizen, May 4, 1997, p. M13; November 19, 1997, p. C1; October 8, 2001, p. D9.
Publishers Weekly, April 3, 1995, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 57; August 11, 1997, review of In Another Place, Not Here, pp. 382-383; September 6, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 82.
Quill and Quire, January, 1995, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 31; May, 1996, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 26; March, 1997, review of Land to Light On, p. 76; April, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 27; August, 2001, review of A Map to the Door of No Return, p. 25.
Resource Links, October, 2002, Ingrid Johnston, review of A Map to the Door of No Return, p. 56.
Times (London, England), September 30, 1999, Alex O'Connell, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 42; October 2, 1999, Michael Arditti, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 18.
Times Literary Supplement, November 5, 1999, review of At the Full and Change of the Moon, p. 25.
Toronto Life, February, 2005, Gerald Hannon, "The Miracle Worker" (profile of Dionne Brand), p. 6.
University of Toronto Quarterly, winter, 1992-1993, review of Sans Souci, and Other Stories, pp. 256-281.
Women and Environment, winter, 1997, Dawn Carter, review of In Another Place, Not Here, pp. 24-30.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1990, Rhonda Cobham, review of Sans Souci, and Other Stories, pp. 29-31; December, 1995, Rosaria Champagne, review of Bread Out of Stone, p. 14; April, 1998, Suzanne Ruta, review of In Another Place, Not Here, p. 12.
World Literature Today, spring, 1997, Michael Thorpe, review of In Another Place, Not Here, pp. 446-448.*