Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Searching For Ellison, While Others Are Still Looking For Langston (and Richard Wright too)

Share |

I can honestly say I used to be annoyed at record company copywriters and marketing staffers who'd instantly suggest that a new record by Joe Recently Discovered Canadian Rocker carried traces of Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan and Peter Tosh, while simultaneously being so Beethoven. Certainly, in order to stick any pop culture produce in a section of genre that befits said product means that some kind of categorization might be necessary - either that or your new book can get dumped into the section that carries Croatian gypsy avant garde beat poetry produced in the 19th century. Now, that's not to say that Croatian gypsy avant garde beat poetry produced in the 19th century scene might not be huge, but lets just say that it doesn't hurt to have accessible art (even when the holier and hipster than thou artistes who would be honest in admitting that securing broad audiences are important, that they want to be read by the more than 14 people who read their blog religiously).

I recently got to thinking about what makes up a composite of me and my work. Attitudinally, it might be a touch of (Greg) Tate (because like him, I'm not even quite sure such a word exists, attitudinally, but it sho' as hell sounds nice). Perhaps with a sprinkling or Aaron McGruder, and some Dave Chappelle on the side. Like the aformentioned artistes, I pretty much lay out the absurdity of it all, the complex and contradictory mess that is pop culture in my new book Hip Hop World. Is this something writers consciously think about, or do they leave this for journalists and marketing departments to decide ? As far as where my worldview is concerned, I'd say that author Ralph Ellison has had a profound impact on how i interact with publishing biz parasites I've messed with in the US, and unkind people.

Ellison knew that America was fraught with problems, but one of the few reasons he remained in the US - which is quite similar to the reason I remain in Canada, knowing some of my target audiences are in the US, Europe and the African Diaspora, Latin America and the Caribbean specifically - is that he had to face the challenge of the USA, much like I have to face up to where I am, in Toronto, so that future of legions of me's don’t have it so hard. Snaps, if not for Rosa Parks, I might still be sitting in the back of the (TTC) bus. Instead I now occupy the seats up front - the ones that lie right after the seats reserved for the disabled and elderly - I’ve never been much interested in becoming a mandarin, losing touch with main currents of our times, comfortable speaking to tiny shrinking audiences (ask Kate my publicist at Groundwood/House of Anansi about how I feel about what's considered standard practice in Canada) - this idea forms the subtext of everything I do, and how I view the Canadian publishing industry. Genuine and good art doesn't have to be antithetical to issues-oriented prose. It can serve both functions. I'm no holy roller, and haven't been to church in years, but the aim is to be like Jesus, develop grand ideas, risk persecution, but who cares, be necessary. Jesus was the first rapper (!), putting a sharp mirrior to reality unlike most. Moronic Misanthropes and unnecessary xenophobe's might not care to get this, and it's like whatevs.

"I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." - Ralph Ellison

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Dalton Higgins

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and journalist. He is also Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. His latest book is Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi).

Go to Dalton Higgins’s Author Page