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Literature &

Oral Tradition

"It is not enough to come together in celebration of our culture and heritage, unless we know why we are meeting on this very significant occasion.  As artists and academicians we have a very clear definition of our work and the purpose which that work is intended to achieve. - It is not enough to produce these works which reluctantly have been accorded praise , works which we ourselves know are worthy of that praise.  But in the work itself, must be the germ of a re-birth of consciousness, a discovery of ourselves, as we are today, and as we ought to be..."

 Austin Clarke, Forward 1992 CELAFI Catalogue

CELAFI 1992 & 1997's literary programs brought national and international published and unpublished writers to the fore, in readings, print, workshop, panels discussions and interactive dialogue.

Oral Tradition:

Dub Poetry, Storytellers, Comedy, and now RAP (Rhythmic America Poetry) have historically been the artistic response to political, social and economic realities. The oral tradition has evolved into a rich hybrid and has reached new levels of popularity across North America. CELAFI programs paid homage to this heritage  in a series of performances and presentations.


Literature  at CELAFI is programmed in collaboration with Harboufront Reading Series.
Artistic Director: Ayanna Black


VOICES: Canadian Writers of African Descent

HarperPerennial, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

Ayanna Black, Editor

ISBN 0-00-647413-6

Pre CELAFI Publication Launch:  Community Gallery, Harbourfront Centre

June 1992

"We come from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Ghana, Haiti, Guyana, Nigeria, Canada, the United States and South Africa.  As writers, we push the limits of literature and redefine images of representation.  In the process, we create our realities.  We are a new generation of griots - town criers, or spiritual messengers whose stories have been transferred to the printed pages.  Despite the diversity of our cultural backgrounds, we write out of a collective African consciousness - a consciousness embodied in the fabric of oral traditions, woven from one generation to the next, through myths, storytelling, fables, proverbs, rituals, work-songs, and sermons meshed with Western literary forms...."

Ayanna Black -  Forward, 1992 'Voices'

15 of Canada's most influential and innovative writers present original poetry and short fiction that reach deep into African tradition and push through to new forms.

The Authors:

Molara Ogundipe-Leslie - Garlands to the Beheaded One, Because We Are Mad; Norma De Haarte - Little Abu:The Boy Who Knew Too Much; Afua Cooper - And I Remember, Memories Have Tongue, Lovetalk;  Cyril Dabydeen - Phoenix, Multiculturalism, I am not; Lawrence Hill - So What Are You, Anyway?;  George Elliot Clarke - Casualties, April in Paris, April 19, 19-, Marina: The Song of Lee Harvey Oswald, to Milton Acorn, April 3-4, 1968; Austin Clarke - Letters of the Law of Black; Nigel Darbasie - Winter Stroll in Tipaskan, The Oracle of Babylon, Conceiving the Stranger: Rozena Maart - Conceptualizing the Immaculate; Ayanna Black - I Write Imaginary Stories; Claire Harris - Under Black Light; Cecil Foster - Going Home; Makeda Silvera - Her Head a Village; Frederick Ward - Kitten Face; Dany Laferriere - Why Must a Negro Writer Always Be Political;


Harbourfront Centre

Monday, July 7, 8pm 

A Callaloo Of Words

Program of Literature Readings


Africa, its people and their diasporic descendants represent a dynamic diversity, to which the existence of words like: African-Canadian” and “African-America” attest. Hence the various African literatures, cast together into the pot of this conference, must be tasted as a callaloo –

The literary equivalent of the thick soup of crabmeat, greens, and seasonings which gave so many Africans everywhere the strength to escape their bonds.


Enjoy. No extra spice required.

- George Elliott Clarke, Artistic Director

CELAFI 1992 Literary Series featured:


Ayanna Black

Dionne Brand

Jan Rynveld Carew

Austin Clarke

George Elliott Clarke

Afua Cooper

Nigel Darbasie

Daria Essop

Cecil Foster

Norma De Haarte

Claire Harris

Karen Hill

Lawrence Hill

Lisa James

Bushra Junaid

Danny Laferrière

Martha Kumsa

Nise Malange

Jack Mapanje

Tolowa M. Mollel

Grace Nichols

May Optiz

Molara Ogundipe-Leslie

Makada Silvera

Janis Shinebourne

Samuel Selvon

Carol Talbot

Fredrick Ward

WORD POWER: Keeping The Oral Tradition Alive

Harbourfront Centre

July 10 -12


There was once a time where storytellers b ought the news, tellers were healers and entertainers, tellers advised on the ways of the world, and passed on the history. Come with us as we see and hear that time lived again… As literacy, literature, and communication dominate conversations of the day, CELAFI welcomes everyone to Harbourfront Centre – excerpt Word Power introduction


Word Power participants:

Marcia Brown

Alwin Bully

Calvin Butler

Jesse Cook

David Collins

Emerita Emerencia

Amah Harris

Jeff Henry

Ricardo Keens-Douglas

Nomadlozi Kubheka

Nise Malange

Dick McLean

Mapopa Mtonga

Jean Small

Kevin Sinclair

THINK – Theatre In A New Key

Tricia Williams

The Spirit Lives On

Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre

Monday, July 7, 8pm 

A special evening in memory of some of the provocative feminist writings of Toni Cade Bambara (USA), May Optiz (Germany), Audre Lorde (USA), and Pat Parker (USA). The Spirit Lives On, celebrates their works through the voices of five Canadian authors: Dionne Brand, Makeda Silvera, Karen Hill, Hazel Palmer, and Judith Orban.
Admission: $8

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Literature  at CELAFI is programmed in collaboration with Harboufront Reading Series.
Artistic Director: Ayanna Black

CELAFI Literary Tribute to Austin Clarke

Tuesday, July 8, 8pm, Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre

this engaging evening features speakers including Cecil Foster, Roy McMurtry, Barry Callaghan and Stella Algoo-Baksh.
Admission: $8

Mainstage Reading Series

Brigantine Room, Harbourfront Centre

Mainstage Reading 1
Thursday, July 10, 8pm
Hilton Als (USA) and  Mairuth Sarsfield (Montreal)
Admission: $8

Mainstage Reading 2
Friday, July 11, 8pm
Jean "Binta" Breeze (Jamaica) and Gerrard Etienne (Montreal)
Admission: $8

The Loft

The Loft
Saturday, July 12, 8pm 

Nigel Thomas, Christopher Curtis and others in an all-Canadian reading.
Admission: Free

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CELAFI Tellabration: A celebration of the spoken word.

Tellabration Coordinator: Itah Sadu

The Story Book Hut

Celebration Theatre at Harbourfront Centre
Saturday, July 12, 2-6pm

Programmed in association with Harbourfront Centre and the Yoruba Community Association.

2 days of performance by various storytellers, capturing youthful audience with their colourful stories and melodious song. Kids can get involved with many of the segments, including Yuroba folktales.

Story Book Hut Coordinator: Bola Adetunji


Literary Reading Series

Community Gallery at Harbourfront Centre

Saturday, July 12, Noon


Nigel Thomas

Christopher Curtis  

Joel Desrosiers

Who's Sleeping With Little Jack Horner

The Loft at Harbourfront Centre

Saturday, July 12, 9 pm 

The Storytellers School of Toronto presents a night of tall tales and calypso with Ricardo Keens-Douglas, Yvonne Forbes, Dick Lochan, Mark Trinidad, Lady Pearl, and special guest Pat Dillon (Montreal), Dick Smith with the Hot House Band Syncona and more. 
Hosted by Sandra Whiting.

All God's Children Wear Travelling Shoes

Bethel Worship Centre

Sunday, July 13, 11am

The launch of the African Canadian Storytellers Group, worship and stories with the congregation at Bethel Worship Centre, with Tellers Rita Cox and George Blake.


Coming Together

Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre

Sunday, July 13, 3-5pm

A ceremony of tellers and tales with George Blake, Emerita Emerencia, George Anang'a,  Luleka Keyi, with special guests Shirley Smith and Juanita Smith.

All Circuits Are Busy

Yuk Yuk Supper Club

Sunday, July 13, 8:30pm

CELAFI and The Nubian Disciples proudly presents a night of women in comedy with Toronto's Satori Shakur, Montreal's Pat Dillon and Detroit's Tashan. Headliner Koko Nikki Crosby plus others.
Admission: $10

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