Karina Vernon

Episode 32: Mahmoud Ababneh interviews Karina Vernon

Apr 5, 2022

In this Interview of Karina Vernon by Mahmoud Ababneh, the conversation is backdropped by the Canadian prairies. Karina and Mahmoud discuss the mythology of a white Eurocentric prairies, a space historically defined as monochromatic. Of course, this is simply a myth, reified by an educational institution that shies away from uncomfortable truths, which is where Karina believes the real education lies. As they discuss, Karina’s book, The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology is the truth of a multicultural and polyvocal Alberta, a history that was absent in Karina’s youth. Karina discusses the pertinence of this type of archival work as well as the problematics of representation. Ultimately, Karina sees hope as her essential text is being implemented in the classroom as a decolonizing companion to traditional canonical literary programs. Finally, Karina speaks to the forthcoming expansion of the The Black Prairie Archives called Critical Readings in The Black Prairie Archives. This interview was originally recorded in spring 2021.


Mahmoud Ababneh is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of Calgary on Treaty 7 territory. His research centers around trans-Indigenous and postcolonial literatures, decolonization, and settler-colonialism. Mahmoud is currently teaching at Red Deer Polytechnic. His work appeared in the Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies.

Karina Vernon is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough where she researches and teaches in the areas of Canadian and Black Canadian literature, Black aesthetics, archives, critical pedagogy, and Black-Indigenous solidarities. She is editor of The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology, published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press in 2020 and a companion volume, Critical Readings in the Black Prairie Archives, which is forthcoming. She is at work on a five-year SSHRC-funded project “Black Art and the Aesthetics of Spatial Justice,” which seeks to understand how mid-century urban renewal projects that destroyed inner-city Black neighbourhoods across North America gave rise to a new Black literary aesthetic. With Winfried Siemerling (UWaterloo) she is working on a book project on the politics and aesthetics of relation of Black Canadian cultural achievement, including writing, music, film, and visual art.

Show Notes 

3:41 – How Karina is managing teaching and living during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto

4:00 – Karina references Dionne Brand and the systemic inequalities that COVID-19 has exposed

7:34 – Karina on teaching introduction to Canadian literature and black Canadian literature, and how what she is teaching differs from what she learned in both undergraduate and graduate studies

8:54 – Karina references Roy Miki as a teacher

11:26 – The difference between how the institution sees itself and what it really is

14:40 – How the classroom can be a form of activism and engage with social justice issues

20:28 – Karina on slowing down in the classroom and sticking with the hard things

21:41 – Mahmoud references Laura Moss’s “Notes from a CanLit Killjoy” and Wayde Compton’s “Illegalese: Floodgate Dub

26:09 – Dedicating classroom conversation to the reality outside the classroom

29:17 – Karina’s process of researching The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology and how it intersects with the absence of knowledge in her youth

33:04 – Mahmoud references Velma Carter and Cheryl Foggo

33:22 – Karina on accessing the archives, the work already being done, and the generosity of the community

34:00 – Karina references Janutta Jamerson

37:56 – Karina discusses the tension between the strategic essentialism of defining blackness for the archives and how defining blackness can be limiting

40:11 – Karina discusses the violent act of bounding and sanitizing history in whiteness

43:01 – How The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology continues the work of diversifying CanLit

43:46 – Karina references Laura Moss and Cynthia Sugars’ Canadian Literature in English: Texts and Contexts

45:04 – The complexities of black settlers in the Canadian prairies and the geographies of empire

46:53 – Karina references Tiffany Lethabo King’s The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies

50:06 – Karina discusses the three periods of black migration to Canada encompassed in The Black Archives: An Anthology and Critical Readings in The Black Archives

54:51 – Mahmoud references George Washington Slater Jr. (writing appears in The Black Archives: An Anthology)

56:30 – Mahmoud references Ellis Hooks (writing appears in The Black Archives: An Anthology)

58:44 – Mahmoud references Karina Vernon’s “The Outside of the Inside: Blackness and the Remaking of Canadian Institutional Life” and Suzette Mayr’s Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

TIA House recognizes the generous support of the Canada Research Chairs program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. We also appreciate the support of the Faculty of Arts and the Department of English at the University of Calgary, where our offices are housed, as well as the guidance of Marc Stoeckle at the Taylor Family Digital Library.

TIA House is run by Larissa Lai, Shuyin Yu, Ryan Stearne, Shazia Ramji, Marc Lynch, Paul Meunier, and Mahmoud Ababneh.

Our Intro/Outro music is Monarch of the Streets by Loyalty Freak Music, accessed from the Free Music Archive.

Posted in