Remembering Maxine, a poem of sorts

Guest post by Ian Porter, producer on CBC Radio’s Information Morning from 1983-1988

“How Maxine Tynes came to Information Morning on CBC Radio in the mid-1980s”

We needed her but didn’t know it.

One morning, after the show, she came to Sackville Street* and, asking for the producer, made her splendid way to our cluttered corner, sat down, putting her cane to one side, and settled her smile on us.  That smile that seemed to reach to the horizon.

My memory is of being charmed, despite myself.
She wanted to read her poems on the show.
Just one, to begin with, but more could follow?

And if we didn’t think so,  then . . . what was Peoples’ Radio for?

Oh, yes, she knew what we needed better than ourselves.

New words, new images, new voices are oxygen for radio. Different voices. Accents and argot. Odd turns of phrase,  the speech of  streets and neighbourhoods.  The words of all those restless in their place.  

These are sounds of the times, for sure, of any times … but not much reflected in the confident, white, manly tones of the show back then.

So we needed her. And on radio her voice was unforgettable. Harmonious, clear, her words issuing from the
speakers with the urgent intensity of memories, images, feelings caught just so. The stuff of her poetry.

Do poems change anything?
Maxine came on the air in Ronald Reagan times, her voice filtered through an international screen of news and views of the push-back against the struggle for civil rights.

And so she spoke to those times, as a woman of African heritage, a Black woman who celebrated her legacy in poems about everything from hand-woven baskets at the market to the “cloud Afro” hair styles in Borrowed Beauty.  Her most marked loyalty, though, was to the “womanquest” and to – in her words – “the Saturday standing armies” of  Black  women working In Service to clean south-end mansions to sustain life and survival for their north-end families.

Maxine helped change the sound with which so many Nova Scotians start their days. Like  the school marm she also was, she reminded us of homework to be done, of debts overlooked, of respect to be paid.  But her tone, never harsh, remains an invitation to share her poet’s vision of a beauty come of age. 

* CBC Radio broadcast for many years from studios on Sackville street across from the Citadel Hill.

WFNS’s new Nova Scotia Poetry Award has been named in honour of Maxine Tynes. On May 13, 2021, the inaugural award was presented to Tammy Armstrong for her collection Year of the Metal Rabbit (Gaspereau Press) at the Atlantic Book Awards Gala.  Fundraising for the Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award endowment continues, and donations are welcome.

On Octavia Butler

Guest post by Evelyn C. White (Halifax), author Alice Walker: A Life

Born in 1947, Octavia Butler was a contemporary of the late Charles Saunders. As groundbreaking Black writers of science fiction/fantasy, they were rightly hailed as “griots” who continued the spellbinding storytelling traditions of West Africa.

The shy, only child of a devout, widowed mother in California, Butler achieved international acclaim for works such as Kindred (1979) and The Parable of the Sower (1993) that feature Black women protagonists. Indeed, a major critic declared the latter novel “unmatched” in its prescient portrait of the mayhem unleashed by Donald Trump. In 1995, Butler became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur “Genius” Prize, among the most coveted awards in the US.

In A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler (2020), Lynell George delivers a poignant tribute to the author in a book crafted from documents she discovered in Butler’s vast archives (bus passes, shop-ping lists, diaries, utility bills, a receipt from “Tall Girl” Shoes). The statuesque author died unexpectedly, in 2006, after a fall outside of her Seattle-area home. She was 58.

The handsome volume is “not a biography, nor is it a study of [Butler’s] literary legacy,” writes George, a veteran Los Angeles journalist. “It is an examination of [her] … life path, her influences, her rituals, her quirks, and obsessions, and mostly her labor…. Butler made her own rules and stuck to them.”

An early proponent of self-help practices, Butler peppered her journals with affirmations to counter the dismissive response to her literary ambition. “Can’t you write anything normal?” a teacher once asked. In her staunch belief in her voice and vision, she blazed a trail for Afrofuturists such as Jamaican-born Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson, whose powerful works include Brown Girl in The Ring (1998).

In a 1970 journal entry, Butler pledged to secure “free and clear” $100,000 in earnings by January 1, 1975. Her strategy? “Will always write, no matter what,” she declared. “This is a fact of my life. Thus I must always leave time in my day for writing. Four hours at least.”

Among other menial jobs, Butler toiled as a potato chip inspector before her ascent to bestseller lists. She also sacrificed personal relationships. “I am lonely, I need other people now: friends and lovers,” she noted in a diary.

“It [was] a supreme act of self-love,” George writes about Butler’s hard-won success. Meditating on the stellar work of Charles Saunders and Octavia Butler, a time-honoured gospel song comes immediately to mind: “How Excellent is Thy Name.”

On May 19, 2021, as part of WFNS’s recurring Nova Reads series, remembrances of the late Charles Saunders and passages from his fiction and non-fiction works will be shared by David Woods (multidisciplinary artist and arts organization leader), George Elliott Clarke (Canada’s 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate), Judy Kavanagh (editor and Saunders’s Daily News colleague), Bill Turpin (managing editor of The Daily News), Milton Davis (author of 19 books of Black fantastic fiction), and Taaq Kirksey (television producer and developer of Saunders’s Imaro novel series for screen). Hosted by journalist Jon Tattrie (author of Peace by Chocolate), this edition of Nova Reads is co-presented by Halifax Public Libraries and the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute.

This virtual event is free to attend, but pre-registration is required.

Charles Saunders (1946 – 2020) was an African-American author and journalist who moved to Ontario in 1969 and then Nova Scotia in 1985. While a copyeditor and writer at Halifax’s The Daily News, where he worked for nearly two decades, Saunders penned numerous columns grappling with difficult racial issues, contributed to The Spirit of Africville (1992), and authored the book-length community profile Black and Bluenose (1999). Saunders also pioneered the “sword and soul” literary genre through his Imaro series of fantasy novels, begun in 1981. His fiction was groundbreaking not merely for its anti-colonial reimagining of figures like Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian but also for its worldbuilding centered on Black characters and cultures.

Learn more about Charles Saunders in the feature stories “The extraordinary inner world of Charles R. Saunders, father of Black sword and soul” (Jon Tattrie, CBC Nova Scotia) and “A Black Literary Trailblazer’s Solitary Death: Charles Saunders” (The New York Times).

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