A few weeks ago, I mentioned how much Naomi’s Atlantic Canada reading has impacted the books in my stacks. (Check out her project here, along with pages dedicated to the Halifax Explosion and regional literary awards on Consumed by Ink.) When I reach for another book set in Toronto (a city I love, a city I now call home), I’m missing an opportunity to learn about another place I could also love. Thinking about what we do not choose can be more revealing than thinking about what we choose. My first post in this series appears here, and the next will appear on December 11. Meanwhile, here are three more Atlantic Canadian reads:

Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon’s One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music and Love (2020). Mostly a set of husband-and-wife remembrances in prose, there are court transcripts, bits of Atlantic outport family lore, newspaper articles, letters, tweets and song lyrics (McCann was a member of Great Big Sea) to expand the story. “I may have been singing in the choir, but I was definitely no altar boy,” McCann writes. Intergenerational trauma, alcoholism, strained partnerships (romantic and artistic), parenting, the “never-ending party” of musicianship, and abuse within the context of Catholicism:  it’s a lot. And a lot that you might feel you’ve heard before. Even so, this memoir moved me to tears twice (if you’ve read it, I’ll say when) and had me making playlists. Thanks to Nimbus for encouraging me to read this.

L. Jane McMillan’s Truth and Conviction: Donald Marshall Jr. and the Mi’kmaw Quest for Justice (2018)McMillan first saw a documentary about this story of wrongful conviction and imprisonment in 1991, when she left Ontario for Halifax, to study marine biology.

A rebroadcast inspired by the death of Donald Marshall Sr, it was a timely discovery for her, because three weeks later, she would meet Donald Marshall Jr, at the Misty Moon, where Jeff Healey was playing.

It had been ten years since the Marshall Inquiry exposed the errors and systemic racism which resulted in his wrongful conviction.

They fell in love, she changed her major to anthropology, and in 1993, they were charged with fishing without a license (which denied the fishing and hunting rights protected for the Mi’kmaq [sic] in the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-1).

“I came to realize that the rage-infused racism—the rawness of discrimination—was far more widespread than I had ever imagined. It was ugly. It was violent. It was inhumane.”

This book is an act of reconciliation, a “process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.”

This isn’t for the casual reader (although the endnotes and photographs make the narrative more accessible) but it’s an essential read for anyone concerned with the impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples and the legacy of genocide which endures.

And given the recent conflict in the headlines this autumn, this book is ever-more egregiously important.

Afraid of the Dark (2018) is spoken-word poet Guyleigh Johnson’s second book.

Her Afterword talks about creating change and this collection is her philosophy in action: “If we want more black books, let’s write black books. If we want more sacred spaces to learn, heal, and share, let’s create before we complain.”

There are also short stories here, revolving around Kahlua, a composite character inspired by the author’s and others’ personal experiences, struggles and triumphs echoed in poems like “Living while Black”, “Take a Knee”, “Philando Castile” and “Cops and Robbers”.

“I know you won’t ever feel my pain
But why can’t you at least try and understand.”

Her tone is earnest and pleading, stalwart and declarative: she is putting her words to work. There is a lot of rage and sorrow here, but her determination and compassion outweigh everything.