Wayde Compton's After Canaan (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010) is subtitled "Essays on Race, Writing and Region."
And it is so.
It is, furthermore, rich with intelligence and timely analysis.
Following Barack Obama's remarkable electoral victory in 2008, the commentariat were insistent that we had entered a "post-racial" world. Within this unique historical moment, Compton's essays ring with caution. They also, and I don't know how else to say it, sing with sanity.
What I mean is, Compton addresses many topics that are often swamped with anxiety. His voice is clear, unwavering, and dedicated to a depth quest for meaning. It should also be said he is a critic of both the left and the right of the political spectrum. He is a poet and historical researcher, free from any party line.
I devoured this book eagerly. Here's some places others have commented:
an interview with Compton from Geist.
I'm going to provide a simple response to this complicated book.
The NY Times link above (and the author's response) jumps off from the first essay in the collection, "Pheneticizing Versus Passing," a remarkable and creative piece of analysis about racial identity and how people often project racial conclusions on others. The author's distinction between passing and pheneticizing is who has the power of agency, the subject or the audience.
"Seven Routes to Hogan's Alley and Vancouver's Black Community" provides a fascinating historical recreation of a key moment in the past century when the West Coast's miniscule black population came up against the forces of urban modernization with predictable results.
"The Repossession of Fred Booker" made me sad.
"Obama and Language" -- simply a must-read. And interesting to read alongside Zadie Smith.
Finally, a word about "region." As you might guess, the region is Canada's Pacific south-west. Compton repeatedly make the point that the region's black population has historically been so small as to be nearly invisible. Asians and First Nations folks are the more noticeable minorities. Compton make the point that this fact gives West Coast blacks a unique perspective and narrative history. While this is no doubt true, it is Compton's searing intelligence that makes this book singularly valuable.