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Cecil Foster

Cecil Foster is one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals on issues of race, culture, citizenship, and immigration. Born in 1954, he became a journalist in Barbados before emigrating to Canada, where he began reporting for the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. He worked as a senior editor for the Financial Post and in national radio news and national television news for CBC Toronto and for CTV News Network. Between 1979 and 1982, he was the editor of Contrast, Canada’s first Black-oriented newspaper.

In addition to his well-known journalistic endeavors, Foster is a novelist and non-fiction writer. In 1995, his novel, Sleep On, Beloved, was shortlisted for the prestigious Trillium award. His 1996 non-fiction book, A Place Called Heaven: The Meaning of Being Black in Canada, won the acclaimed Gordon Mantador Award for the best Canadian book on social and contemporary issues. In 1998 he published an account of his experiences growing up in Barbados, entitled Island Wings: A Memoir. Foster grew up in a poor neighborhood in Barbados, called Lodge Road, and at the time Barbados was a colonial possession of Britain. His father was a musician who went to England the same year Foster was born, and his mother soon followed, leaving behind Foster and his two older brothers. Much of this early life is also chronicled in Foster’s first novel, No Man in the House, but Island Wings recalls the sweeping changes and unrest that Independence in Barbados heralded when Foster was twelve years old.

His 2005 study of multiculturalism, Where Race Does Not Matter: The New Spirit of Modernity, deals with issues of race in Foster’s own life and his perceptions of race relations in Canada. His most recent book, Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Search for Freedom, published in 2007, traces the main philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and mythological arguments that support views of modernity as a failed quest for whiteness. He outlines how these views were implemented as part of a “world history” and shows how Canada became the first country to officially reject this approach by adopting multiculturalism.

Dr. Foster divides his time between research, writing, and teaching, and he is a professor of sociology at the University of Guelph. For this month’s featured Oral History, he joins Paul Watkins, PhD student in English Literature, ICASP Graduate Fellow, and Toronto-based sound poet, for an informal public interview (during the 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium) about jazz, improvisation, the writing process, and multiculturalism.

A full transcript of the interview is available here.

Writing Jazz: Gesturing Towards the Possible. Cecil Foster in conversation with Paul Watkins


You will also find an article here by Paul Watkins that riffs upon many of the theoretical discussions raised in the interview. In the article, “The Sound of Freedom: Fragmentation, Improvised Beings, and Canadian Multiculturalism,” improvised music and identity are looked at in relation to the movement of multiculturalism in Canada.

There is a curious yet enormously fruitful duality in the way that improvisation plays on our expectations and perspectives.

– Tracey Nicholls