Having produced an extensive body of work throughout her life, the multi talented writer is perhaps best known for her poetry
Canadian writer Dionne Brand has become a staple in Canadian literature over the last several years, churning out 18 books, with the majority being poetry collections. The writer’s work often addresses issues pertaining to sex, gender, race, migration, and more. Though Brand is certainly multitalented, having written an array of fiction and nonfiction books, held teaching positions at several post-secondary institutions in British Columbia and Ontario, and even writing and co-directing several films, her poetry is arguably what she is best known for.
Brand was born in 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad, and later moved to Toronto in 1970 to study at the University of Toronto. Shortly after the completion of her BA in English and Philosophy, she released ‘Fore Day Morning: Poems, the book that put her work on the map.
Her work began garnering praise in 1997, with her poetry collection Land to Light On earning her both a Trillium Book Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Following this success, Brand released two more highly acclaimed works, one in 2002 titled thirsty and another in 2010 titled Ossuaries.
Her work often seeks to challenge the idea that Canada’s multicultural identity has created an innately accepting country, free from frequent instances of racism. Her poems are especially engaged with the experience of immigrant women in Canada, and they aim to convey the challenges these women face, like language barriers and unequal access to employment and education. Brand’s poems are proof that the act of writing can serve as a powerful form of activism, as it has the capacity to empower marginalized readers.
Though each reader’s favourite Brand book will vary, her long poem titled Inventory (published in 2006) is undoubtedly one of the author’s most influential pieces of literature. The book seeks to understand what an inventory for the early years of the 21st century might account for. Inventory can be read as a sort of catalogue, one that recounts both specific historical events, such as Hurricane Katrina, and more widespread events that continue to occur today, such as systemic violence against marginalized people. Her poems address mounting instances of violence, humanity’s growing reliance on technology, the steady shift to a surveillance state, and more. While this book may not be an ideal choice for someone seeking a leisurely read due to its unsettling content, Brand never fails to pen lines that confront the brutal and honest truth.
Graphic courtesy of James Fay