David Chariandy is a professor of English literature at Simon Fraser University and a very promising creative writer. His first novel, Soucouyant (2007), received the attention of prestigious awards committees and enthusiastic critical reviews. Most notably, Soucouyant was longlisted for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 Governor General’s Award for Fiction. His second novel, Brother, is forthcoming. Chariandy’s academic research and creative pursuits have made him one of the most prominent voices in discussions of contemporary black Canadian literature. As a scholar of black diasporic and black Canadian literature, Chariandy has been an important contributor to the growing but still-neglected field of Black Studies in Canada.
Early Life, Education, and Career
David Chariandy was born and raised in what is now the Scarborough section of Toronto, attended Carleton University in Ottawa for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and York University in Toronto for his PhD, which he completed in 2002. After earning his doctorate, he moved to Vancouver where he is an English literature professor at Simon Fraser University. As one of the first doctoral candidates to complete a dissertation on black Canadian literature and as an intellectual active in discussions of black diasporic literature, Chariandy brings attention not only to racialized experiences and storytelling but to the study of specifically Canadian black literature. His commitment to the dissemination and study of black voices and stories is further evident in his co-founding, along with Wayde Compton and Karina Vernon, of Commodore Books, the first dedicated black Canadian press in Western Canada.
As in his academic work, his creative work grapples with issues of diaspora, migration, racism, class, belonging, and the connections between them. His first novel, Soucouyant, is inspired by his real-life experience of being raised by a black mother and a South Asian father, both of whom immigrated to Canada from Trinidad and worked, respectively, as domestic and factory labourers. The novel depicts a young man struggling to care for a mother suffering from dementia and through this plot examines the nuances of migration, origins, and acculturation; the intersection of race, racism, and class; the ability to remember personal and national pasts; and the pain of personal loss and loneliness.
Soucouyant’s setting in Scarborough reflects not only Chariandy’s personal experiences but also his belief that “Toronto is one of the global capitals of African-Caribbean expressive culture writ large, as well as a major switching point for black writing from all parts of the globe.” He has said that at the time his parents (and the parents of his novel’s main character) were beginning their lives in Toronto they faced intense pressures from white social and political dominance and racism in Canada before they and the many other immigrants of the 1960s and 1970s helped to shape what is now celebrated as a city of exceptional ethno-racial diversity.
Awards and Honours
Soucouyant was nominated for a number of literary awards including being longlisted for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize. The novel was shortlisted for the 2007 Governor General’s Award.