Bertrand Bickersteth

Episode 41: Mahmoud Ababneh Interviews Bertrand Bickersteth

Nov 1, 2022

Speaking with Mahmoud Ababneh, Bertrand Bickersteth speaks about his personal history and his research into Black histories that have been (and continue to be) neglected, illuminating his own fraught relationship with the prairies. The insightful and engaging conversation spans the mechanics of writing, Black history, Historied soil, land and identity. Bertrand also discusses how his book, The Response of Weeds: A Misplacement of Black Poetry on the Prairies, complicates majoritarian views that try and dictate who belongs and who doesn’t, which histories matter and which don’t.


Bertrand Bickersteth is an educator who also writes poetry and plays. His collection of poetry, The Response of Weeds, won multiple awards and, in 2020, was named a best book of poetry by CBC. He lives in Calgary, teaches at Olds College, and writes about Black identity on the Prairies.

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 Bow Valley College. His work appeared in the Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies and ARIEL.

Show Notes:
3:58 –
Mahmoud and Bertrand discuss their approaches to teaching technical writing at Red Deer Polytechnic, a trade school, and Olds College, an agricultural school, respectively.   

6:52 – Mahmoud discusses teaching BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) texts in schools and the balance between their literary background and technical mechanics

19:17 – Bertrand discusses Black scholarly activity and Black history on the prairie mentioning inspirations, like Cheryl Fogo a descendant of Black Oklahomans who settled in Saskatchewan in 1910.

22:19 – Bertrand discusses the visibility/invisibility of race (mentions of John Ware and Black settlers from Oklahoma in the early 1900s).

28:32 – Discussion of perception of weeds and Black “misplacement” as it is discussed in Bertrand’s text The Response of Weeds: A Misplacement of Black Poetry on the Prairies.

34:41 – Bertrand discusses how the book came about and its construction.

36:57 – Discussion about rivers, the way that they provide insight into the complex relationships with landscape, and also how Black voices can articulate the countryside.

42:10 – Storied soil and concepts of visibility versus invisibility as it has to do with race.

43:09 – Mention of Grant MacEwan’s writing on John Ware.

46:01 – Connections made to Henry Bibb, abolitionist who was born a slave, and the absence of Black history from curriculum.

49:37 – Discussion of the slipperiness of race in connection with the history of Sylvester Long who was a journalist of mixed heritage: Black, white, and Indigenous. (See also scholars Karina Vernon and Donald B. Smith who wrote on Long).

55:13 – Mahmoud and Bertrand discuss the gaze and writing back against, as well as their relationship to postcolonial theory.

57:38 – Connections between struggle, resistance, and fighting. What does fighting look like?

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, Rebecca Geleyn, Mikka Jacobsen, Benjamin Ghan, Amy LeBlanc, Marc Lynch, and Mahmoud Ababneh.
Our Intro/Outro music is Monarch of the Streets by Loyalty Freak Music, accessed from the Free Music Archive.

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