Dr. David Chariandy’s works show that both fiction and nonfiction are vital to understanding racism

Novels such as Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You are must-reads which provide needed critiques of Canadian society

Dr. David Chariandy recently featured in a USA Today article about the importance of reading fiction by Black authors. Courtesy of SFU

By: Molly Lorette, Peak Associate

On August 20, SFU’s own Dr. David Chariandy, an English professor, was featured in USA Today’s “100 Black novelists and fiction writers you should read.”

The list is prefaced with the notion that, “Nonfiction books on race have resonated with readers across the country [ever] since the outcry spurred by George Floyd’s death in May and the killing of Breonna Taylor in March – both Black, both dead at the hands of police.” The article goes on to explain the importance of reading fiction written by Black authors, in addition to nonfiction books about systemic racism, as a way to better understand Black perspectives and experiences.

Indeed, Dr. Chariandy’s multiple award-winning works are breathtakingly touching and utilize his own intersectional experience. Through recent events occurring throughout the world, we have seen the profound ways in which empathy proves itself to be a force to be reckoned with. In this regard, stories like the ones crafted by Dr. Chariandy are integrally important in educating others in the ways in which racism is integrated within society, particularly Canada. 

By now, I should hope that many of us have examined ourselves critically, and recognized the falsities behind the concept of Canada as a post-racist society. Still, it seems as though it’s undeniable that this notion continues to plague Canada today, and has led to a distinct problem in accountability. Personally, I can’t count the times I have heard movements like Black Lives Matter being referred to as a strictly American issue. Dr. Chariandy breaks this notion down flawlessly. 

In 2017, Dr. Chariandy released Brother, a novel about two Black children growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, and explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity. During an interview with The Writers Trust of Canada regarding Brother, Dr. Chariandy says, “[It was] a way of working through the vulnerability I felt growing up and the possibility that life would take an ugly turn.” 

His most recent novel, on the other hand, I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter is a reflective work of nonfiction that Dr. Chariandy was compelled to write following a personal act of racism, and the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017 as both events left him with a loss of words to comfort his daughter with.

Stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, depicting the lives of intersectional individuals in familiar spaces are vital in truly understanding the world around us. Unfortunately, we are vastly limited in the way in which we interact with our world, and thus have no way of truly understanding another’s life experience. However, literature has proven to bridge such a gap and make these lived experiences more tangible. 

While SFU has a long way to go, I am extremely happy that we have individuals, like Dr. Chariandy, who bring their experiences and expertise to students as well as readers. While sharing personal experiences and stories is understandably difficult, its value is truly priceless, especially in today’s climate.