Kicking off this years Montreal’s Black History Month celebrations, will be Black Theatre Workshop’s vision 2020 gala which serves to pay homage to outstanding Black artists who have sought to bring growth and depth to the arts in Canada, while celebrating the vision of growth, solidarity and unity inspired by the great historical and contemporary figure, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this year, H. Nigel Thomas will be awarded for his work in literature as an outstanding author, academic, and essayist:
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own community, I must admit this feels good, being recognized by my own community.” Thomas recounted as he spoke the CONTACT.
“The Black Theatre Workshop has phenomenal influence on the Black culture in Montreal and it is a high honor that they have seen it worthy to recognize me with this award.”
From his years of putting pen to paper as a storyteller, the former university professor has emerged as a formidable force of enlightenment with a series of books that attempt to unpeel the complexities around issues such as social justice, homosexuality, the immigrant experience in the metropolis and, more importantly to him, the inter-play between colonialism and Caribbean life.
Interestingly, he never thought he would be a writer.
Nigel has been writing since the age of 19 while, in his home country of St. Vincent.
“I wrote two plays and directed then and what was surprising was that people liked it but I still didn’t think myself as a writer, I loved literature and wanted to teach it but not really write.”
One Sunday in the fall of 1975, Nigel recalls taking a walk on Mount Royal and suddenly some words came into his head. “I recognized them as poetry,” he explains.
“I went home and wrote them down and every day for the months following I had the urge to write and soon after I published a couple of them in the McGill journal in 1976 and since then the words have kept flowing.
Thomas who also hosts a bi-weekly reading series has noticed how through the years the writing landscape has changed.
“We have far more writers than before,” he says, “ though not everyone has the opportunity to get published.”
“There aren’t as many publishing houses as before and presently, publishers won’t publish books unless they are sure they will sell. I think we need to have more readers.”
That said, Thomas who was a professor of American Literature, remains as prolific as ever.
He is the author of several essays in literary criticism and 11 books.
His five novels: Fate’s Instruments, No Safeguards, Return to Arcadia, Behind the Face of Winter (French trans. De glace et d’ombre), and Spirits in the Dark) as well as his three collections of short fiction: When the Bottom Falls out and Other Stories, Lives: Whole and Otherwise (French trans. Des vies cassées), How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow and Other Stories; and two books of literary criticism: From Folklore to Fiction: A Study of Folk Heroes and Rituals in the Black American Novel and Why We Write: Conversations with African Canadian Poets and Novelists have earned him recognition and acclaim..
In 1994, he was a finalist at QSPELL Hugh MacLennan Fiction Prize and in 2015 at the Paragraphe Quebec Writers’ Federation Hugh MacLennan Fiction Prize. He was also a finalist at Prix Carbet des lycéens 2016.
In 2000 he received the Montreal Association of Business Persons and Professionals’ Jackie Robinson Award for Professional of the Year and was featured in Who is Who in Canada and Who is Who in Black Canada. His sixth novel, Easily Fooled, will be published in 2021
Thomas will be honored at Black Theatre Workshop Vision Gala on Saturday, February 1, at the OMNI Hotel, 1050 Sherbrooke St W. For more info: 514-932-1104