Silvera, Makeda 1955-
SILVERA, Makeda 1955-
Born 1955, in Kingston, Jamaica; immigrated to Canada, 1967; partner of Stephanie Martin; children: two.
Office—Sister Vision Press, P.O. Box 217, Station E, Toronto, Ontario M6H 4E2, Canada.
Writer, publisher. Share, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, editorial assistant; Sister Vision: Black Women and Women of Colour Press, Toronto, co-founder and managing editor, 1985—. Member of Fireweed, an editorial collective.
Silenced: Talks with Working-Class Caribbean Women about Their Lives and Struggles as Domestic Workers in Canada, Williams Wallace Publishers, 1983, reprinted with new introduction, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Fireworks: The Best of Fireweed, Women's Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.
The Issue Is 'Ism: Women of Colour Speak Out, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
The Other Woman: Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
(With C. Allyson Lee) Pearls of Passion: A Treasury of Lesbian Erotica, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Ma-Ka: Diaspora Juks: Contemporary Writing by Queers of African Descent, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
(With Stephanie Martin) Sapodilla: The Sister Vision Book of Lesbian Poetry, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
Growing up Black: A Resource Manual for Black Youth (young adult), Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.
Remembering G. and Other Stories, Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Her Head a Village and Other Stories, Press Gang Publishers (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1994.
The Heart Does Not Bend (novel), Random House Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Jamaican-born Makeda Silvera founded Sister Vision: Black Women and Women of Colour Press in 1985 with her partner, Stephanie Martin. Silvera knew the difficulties of publishing nonmainstream works because her first book, Silenced: Talks with Working-Class Caribbean Women about Their Lives and Struggles as Domestic Workers in Canada, was turned down by many presses before it was eventually published. Sister Vision started on a shoestring, determined to succeed in an environment that did not encourage the writings of women of color and which offered no support to the press founded by a lesbian couple. But Silvera and Martin persevered and published dozens of publications that showcased the voices of African, Caribbean, Asian, First Nations, and mixed-race women on themes that range from oppression to sexuality.
Silvera has edited a number of anthologies, including Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology, a collection by American and Canadian writers of diverse backgrounds, which she dedicated to Audre Lorde. She began her call for submissions in 1985, but it was not until several years later that she had received enough material to assemble the collection, because writers were afraid to identify themselves as being lesbian. Spanish-language poems are translated, and Silvera provides references for Asian terms to make the works more understandable. Ayofemi Stowe Folayan, who reviewed the collection for Lambda Book Report, said that the volume "is divided into eight interrelated yet distinct sections that burst open like a naval orange, succulent and sweet."
Alisa Klinger wrote in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law that Piece of My Heart "is a landmark collection of disparate lesbian voices. By combining reprinted material by such renowned lesbian writers as Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke, Jewell L. Gomez, Chrystos, and Barbara Smith with work by such thought-provoking new writers as Raymina Y. Mays, Karin Aguilar-San Juan, Milagros Paredes, and Nice Rodriguez, Silvera creates an enduring testimony to the inextricable connection between literature and social activism for innumerable multi-ethnic and multi-racial lesbians."
Her Head a Village and Other Stories is Silvera's second collection of her own work. The stories are about the dignity of immigrant women in the face of racism, sexism, and relocation. The title story finds a woman attempting to write an essay called "Writing as a Dangerous Profession" for an international forum, knowing that her danger is in writing as a black lesbian.
The Other Woman: Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature is a collection of thirteen interviews with the featured writers, most conducted by Silvera, and essays by eight of them. Donna Palmateer Pennee described the volume in Canadian Literature as "a rich collection of indigenous and diasporic voices and positions, useful bibliographies, and wonderful photographs, all in a pleasing format and structure."
In Pearls of Passion: A Treasury of Lesbian Erotica, Silvera and coeditor C. Allyson Lee have collected the writings of thirty-two poets and writers of color, all of whom offer their creative works on sensuality, fantasy, and eroticism. Lambda Book Report's Terri L. Jewell called the collection "a potent kaleidoscope of sexual flavors."
The Heart Does Not Bend is Silvera's first novel, narrated by Molly Galloway, a horticulturist living in Toronto. Molly was born to Glory, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Maria, the grandmother who raised Molly, and who was herself the divorced mother of four, including Mikey, a gay son. Molly loved her grandmother, who she called Mama, dearly and recalls her childhood on the island, filled with the activities of women and the smells of flowers. Mama took Molly to Canada to escape her abusive ex-husband and to join her adult children, but a fiercely independent woman, she and they did not always get along. Molly, unsuccessful at establishing a relationship with her own mother, drifts into adulthood to fall in love with Rose, forcing a standoff with her grandmother, who refused to accept her new lifestyle. As the story opens, the family has gathered in Kingston, Jamaica, to hear the reading of Mama's will, in which she leaves everything but one item to a spoiled grandson, Vittorio. To Molly she leaves her hope chest.
Books in Canada critic Irene D'Souza wrote that "Silvera's delineation of loss and alienation, and the precision of her insights are truly commendable. And beyond the content, there is power and beauty in her writing. She has a firm grip on the language—the oral tradition and patois of Jamaica are effectively intertwined with formal Standard English. This engrossing story reads with a poignant intensity, as it tells of the dilemmas and the universal struggle of coping with the choices the heart makes."
In an online review for Xtra, Rhoma Spencer posed the question, "What motivated Silvera, an elder in the lesbian community, to write a novel about a Caribbean matriarch and the vicious cycle of teenage pregnancy? According to her, on one level, she wanted to explore migration and how it affects people, primarily women from the Caribbean coming to North America. On the other, as a lesbian, she also wanted to uncover gay family members in the Caribbean diaspora, to understand their level of invisibility, how these family members are often seen as outcasts. Silvera describes the book as the 'collective experience of a people.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gay & Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Advocate, April 5, 1994, Nikki Baker, review of Her Head A Village and Other Stories, p. 73.
Books in Canada, March, 1990, review of Silenced: Talks with Working-Class Caribbean Women about Their Lives and Struggles as Domestic Workers in Canada (second edition), p. 17; September, 1991, Carole Giangrande, review of Remembering G and Other Stories, pp. 44-45; May, 1992, Gretchen Zimmerman, review of Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology, p. 56; May, 1994, Mary Frances Hill, review of Her Head a Village and Other Stories, pp. 36-37; April, 1995, Hazelle Palmer, review of The Other Woman: Women of Colour in Contemporary Canadian Literature, pp. 36-38; May, 2002, Irene D'Souza, review of The Heart Does Not Bend.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1994, Janet Money, review of Her Head a Village and Other Stories, p. 194; 1995, Lisa A. Dickson, review of The Other Woman, pp. 260-261.
Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, summer, 1994, Alisa Klinger, review of Piece of My Heart, pp. 601-609.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1989, Roberta Buchanan, review of Fireworks: The Best of Fireweed, pp. 182-186; winter, 1995, Lisa Pottie, review of Her Head a Village and Other Stories, pp. 186-188; winter, 1996, Donna Palmateer Pennee, review of The Other Woman, pp. 185-187.
Choice, May, 1995, A. L. McLeod, review of The Other Woman, p. 1451.
Lambda Book Report, April 30, 1992, Ayofemi Stowe Folayan, review of Piece of My Heart, p. 25; May, 1995, Terri L. Jewell, review of Pearls of Passion: A Treasury of Lesbian Erotica, pp. 34-35.
Maclean's, April 8, 2002, review of The Heart Does Not Bend, p. 57.
McGill Daily,http://www.previewmysite.com/mcgilldaily.com/ (March 21, 2002), Sarah Hammond, review of The Heart Does Not Bend.
Now,http://www.nowtoronto.com/ (February 28, 2002), Susan G. Cole, review of The Heart Does Not Bend.
Xtra,http://www.xtra.ca/ (April 4, 2002), Rhoma Spencer, review of The Heart Does Not Bend.*