New poetry award honours Maxine Tynes

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) is naming its new literary award in honour of the late writer Maxine Tynes.

The Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award will be awarded every other year for the best book of poetry written by a Nova Scotian writer. The inaugural award will be presented this year during the Atlantic Book Awards virtual gala on May 13.

Fundraising for the new award started in 2020, with $1,800 received by an anonymous donor. More than 75 individual WFNS members also contributed to the endowment fund for the award. When Dr. Afua Cooper won the Portia White Prize in November, she named the WFNS her protégé, boosting the fund by $7,000. Additional donations were received from the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute and the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union.

“I am thrilled to be part of the initiative established to recognize Maxine Tynes,” says Dr. Cooper. “This pioneering Nova Scotian poet, over several decades, delighted us with stories of thunder, rain, formidable women, moonshine, windswept shores, Black Africans arriving from the sea, and making life on rocky land and swampy soil, and of sweet love in the afternoon. Maxine Tynes is our own people’s poet, and we celebrate her.”

Maxine was a celebrated poet, teacher, and lifelong resident of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. A descendant of Black Loyalists, she drew on their rich and enduring heritage in her writing. Her poems explored her Blackness, feminism, and physical disability. Maxine contracted polio as a child, and complications brought on by the disease led to her death in 2011 at the age of 62.

She wrote four books of poetry, all published by Pottersfield Press. Her first, Borrowed Beauty (1987), announced her as a major new talent and received the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award, recognizing her as a People’s Poet of Canada. Her later books include Woman Talking Woman (1990) and The Door of My Heart (1993), as well as a collection of poetry for children, Save the World For Me (1991).

Maxine championed the search for Black Nova Scotian identity and community. “We are constantly looking for who we are,” she wrote in Borrowed Beauty. “So many signals have been lost historically and culturally along the way.” She was also known as a beloved English teacher at Cole Harbour High and Auburn Drive High schools, where she worked for a combined 31 years. For excellence in teaching, she received a Canada Medal from the Governor General in 1993.

The new Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award joins the four other literary awards administered by the WFNS, including the $25,000 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the J.M. Abraham Atlantic Poetry Award, the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award, and the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature.

Photo of Maxine Tynes by Albert Lee.

Read more: “Maxine Tynes Prize Finalists Reflect on Her Legacy” by Evelyn White in Atlantic Books Today

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