LITERARY LOCATION: CN Station, 1150 Station Street, near Main Street @ Terminal Avenue

As the foremost proponent of black literature in Vancouver, poet, historian and turntablist Wayde Compton edited Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature & Orature (2001) and he remains acutely aware that this bustling CN train station (that gave rise to the nickname Terminal City) is where most immigrants arrived in B.C. up until the 1950s. This was also the place where many black men went to work each day. Because so many black men in Vancouver worked as porters on the CN trains, there arose, in close proximity, a thriving black community called Hogan's Alley. Compton has since anthologized the writing of more than 40 black writers of B.C. "Black culture," he says, "is a whole lot more than just a response to racism."


After a one-year stint at the Vancouver Public Library's seventh writer-in-residence in 2011, Wayde Compton took over from Betsy Warland as the director of Simon Fraser University's Writers Studio in 2012 and later released his first collection of short stories, The Other Harbour (Arsenal Pulp 2014). It received the $3000 City of Vancouver Book Award from a field of finalists that included the illustrated kids' book Mr. Got to Go, Where Are You? by Lois Simmie and Cynthia Nugent, a local history entitled Live at the Commodore by Aaron Chapman, and Bren Simmers's poetry collection Hastings-Sunrise. Previous winners include Amber Dawn, Michael Christie, Chuck Davis, Jean Barman, Madeleine Thien, Wayson Choy and inaugural winner Paul Yee.

In 2002, Wayde Compton instigated the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project, with a goal to preserving the public memory of Vancouver's original black neighbourhood. Hogan's Alley was the informal name given to Park Lane, an alley running through the southwestern corner of Strathcona in Vancouver's East End.

Wayde Compton also helped found the Contact Zone Crew, with Vancouver musician, deejay and teacher, Jason de Couto, a ten-year collaborative sound poetry project that travelled Canada performing live audio mixes of original poetry, instrumental vinyl and spoken word recordings.

Poet, historian and turntablist Wayde Compton is determined to make a stand that is rooted in history. As editor of Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature & Orature (Arsenal Pulp, 2002), he is aware the Greyhound bus station [now called the Pacific Central station] was formerly the bustling CN train station where most immigrants arrived in B.C. up until the 1950s. This terminus that gave rise to the term Terminal City was also the place where most black men went to work each day. Because so many black men in Vancouver worked as porters on the CN trains, there arose, in close proximity, a thriving black community called 'Hogan's Alley.' This enclave in the Strathcona neighborhood is little known today. All the more reason to meet him there to take some photos to promote Bluesprint--his unprecedented 300-page anthology of black literary voices.

During our interview, Compton sometimes seems inarticulate, barely raising his voice loud enough to be recorded, and yet Compton is a vibrant intellectual who is familiar with the works of Frantz Fanon; an English teacher who is confident in his knowledge and opinions; and a published poet who is a great fan of Jimi Hendrix as a Pacific Northwest literary influence. "I started writing because of Jimi Hendrix," he says. "It was because of Electric Ladyland, Voodoo Child; Moon Gently Turn The Tide, all of it. His lyrics were psychedelic and bluesy, too. In terms of blackness, there's something really interesting about Hendrix. Something Pacific Northwest about him. All those southern blues influences are refracted through his years of isolated bizarreness. I think that's what you get in this part of North America, the last place to be colonized." Growing up, Wayde Compton heard all sorts of apocryphal stories about Jimi Hendrix hanging around Vancouver, jamming with the likes of Tommy Chong (of Cheech 'n' Chong), going to elementary school in Vancouver, living with his grandmother Nora Hendrix. He's quick to add that Jimi Hendrix's father attended his own junior high school on Vancouver's eastside, Templeton. Then he slips back into cautious sentences.

Compton's humility is born of respect, not just shyness. In the process of gathering the contents for Bluesprint, Compton has grown deeply respectful of his predecessors. He also recognizes the work to uncover 43 other black writers of British Columbia--ranging from Sir James Douglas to the hip-hop group The Rascalz--was partially done by others. He acknowledges Selwyn Jacobs' documentary of black porters, The Road Taken (1996), Cornelia Wyngaarden and Andrea Fatona's video Hogans Alley (1995) and Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter's Opening Doors: Vancouvers East End (1979). His introduction to Bluesprint offers careful, concise tidbits about all 44 writers who are presented in chronological birth order, plus diplomatic references to white author Crawford Kilian who produced Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia (1978). A friend who edits the Capilano Review encouraged him to start the project. Before that, Compton had learned about Hogan's Alley from his parents. "My Dad came up here from the States in the late '50s," he says. "My Mom was hanging out in the clubs on Main Street. So they'd always talked about it, but I didn't know it was Hogan's Alley."

As for personal influences, Compton has an affinity with Peter Hudson, editor and publisher of the 'astonishingly good but short-lived' diaspora: a magazine of black consciousness and culture. More strident in his social criticism than Compton, Hudson refers to the beloved and illiterate English Bay lifeguard and swimming instructor Joe Fortes, as Vancouver's 'first boot black.' As for Compton's discoveries as an editor, he is particularly intrigued by Truman Green. Still a resident of Surrey, Green wrote a semi-autobiographical novel A Credit to Your Race (1973), in which a 15-year-old black porter's son falls in love with, and impregnates, the white girl next door. "If isolation is a key theme of black B.C. writing," says Compton, his protagonist "Billy Robinson is the most fully-drawn expression." Set in Surrey, circa 1960, A Credit to Your Race is a disturbing and convincing portrayal of how the full weight of Canadian racism could come to bear on a youthful, interracial couple. "He's pretty diplomatic in the way he describes it," says Compton. "His was the first black novel to come out of Western Canada and it got passed over." After rejection from one trendy literary press in eastern Canada, Truman Green self-published in a limited run of 300 copies.

"In black culture," says Compton, "racism becomes a lightning rod for how you're supposed to talk about yourself. But racism is only one aspect of your life." Consequently Bluesprint is broad in its scope. The contributors tell a cumulative tale that few British Columbians have heard. At the invitation of Governor James Douglas, himself partly black, some 600 blacks were invited to move en masse from San Francisco in 1858. Eager to leave behind racial persecution, these blacks, Douglas knew, would become loyal citizens in his fight to prevent the colony from possible annexation to the United States. When the black population of B.C. rose to an estimated 1,000 people, they briefly comprised almost one-tenth of the non-Native population. Their presence on the West Coast, particularly within the militia and especially on Saltspring Island, had a profound impact in the genesis of British Columbia. Eventually Emery Barnes and Rosemary Brown would simultaneously become, in 1972, the first two black MLAs elected in Canada.

Bluesprint occasionally betrays its origins as an academic thesis. For instance, Compton writes, 'Avoiding the autoexoticist 'tragic mulatto' narratives, these writers seek to dismantle binary and standardizing racialized epistemologies." Say, what? But this anthology succeeds as an heroic effort to put wagons into a circle. Compton includes, to borrow a phrase from Hope Anderson, 'the prolonged cry of despair' while also moving far beyond it, like Hendrix did, bold as love.

Compton's preceding book, 49th Parallel Psalm, was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2000. Dedicated to the memory of Emery Barnes and Stokely Carmichael, his poetic riffs recall and examine the migration of blacks to British Columbia. The chronicle of 'endless arrival' and racial discrimination was the first release under Michael Turner's new Advance Editions imprint. In it Compton quotes Derek Walcott: "I met History once, but he ain't recognize me." Compton's second collection of hip-hop-inspired poetry, Performance Bond, included a CD of a turntable performance. It deals with the black diaspora and urban renewal, complete with musical beats and samples.

His first non-fiction book, After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing and Religion (Arsenal, 2010), 'riffs on the concept of Canada as a promised land', which is also referred to as 'Canaan'. Compton explores the concept of 'passing' (racial misrecognition), black writers in the 'unblack Pacific Northwest', hip hop turntablism, black and Asian comedy and the impact of the 'Obama phenomenon'.

Lorna Goodison, Wayde Comptom and Tanya Evanson are among 90 contributors to the first national anthology to focus solely on poetry by African Canadians, Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry ($21.95), edited by Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Anthony Cameron, and launched during Black History Month in February of 2012. 978-1-897181-83-6

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region


49th Parallel Psalm (Advance Editions, Arsenal Pulp, 1999). 1-55152-065-6

Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature (Arsenal Pulp, 2002). $24.95.

Performance Bond (Arsenal Pulp, 2004). $22.95.

After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing and Region (Arsenal Pulp, 2010) 978-155152-374-3 $19.95.

The Outer Harbour (Arsenal Pulp 2014). $16.95 9781551525723

The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press 2015), co-edited with Renee Saklikar. $18 978-1-77214-032-3

The Blue Road: A Fable of Migration (Arsenal 2019) $22.95 978-1-55152-777-2. Illustrations by April dela Noche Milne.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2019] "Poetry" "Afro-Canadian"