Friday, 1 May 2009

Back In The Days by Addena Sumter-Freitag

I knew this was gonna be the greatest day, as soon as I did what my momma said and got the hell out of her way and went outside and let the sun hit my ass.
from “Scotty”

Back in the Days
by Addena Sumter-Freitag
War, peace & getting by for one Black family in Winnipeg.
Poetry and creative non-fiction
by the author of Stay Black & Die Commodore  Books, 2007.
Back in the Days brings to life the girls, boys, men and women of the Black community in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia, through Addena Sumter-Freitag’s anecdotes and provocations.

Advance Praise for Back in the Days
Addena Sumter-Freitag bounces between voices and characters with ease like a honey bee going from flower to flower pollinating our minds with the multiple perspectives of her subjects. Each person feels authentic as she takes on the weight and history of her family and provides them with release through these stories and poems. It’s a trip into the past well worth taking.
RC Weslowski, Poet of Honour, Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, 2008
…bold-faced, broad-based and takes up space in a Canada that needs to be re-raced. *Back in the Days* is a book that will change your sense of here, and will eclectify your sense of self, wherever and whoever you are. You’ll love going back with Sumter-Freitag, whether or not you were there the first time around, because you’re here and now in her glorious storytelling.
Wayde Compton, author of Performance Bond and editor of Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature
… offers the real deal on a Winnipeg upbringing that all of us should know about. She is a gifted storyteller who isn’t afraid to address difficult circumstances, but whose care and compassion for the people she represents is abundantly clear. She is one of those rare and revered storytellers who compel you instantly to listen up and pay respect.
David Chariandy, Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalist for Soucouyant
… a gifted storyteller. With honesty and a keen ear for voices, she narrates how one girl finds the strength to survive cruelty from both the family and the outside world. Her words remind us to stay alert and tender, to feel fully, and to respect the power of memory.
Rita Wong, author of forage
Addena does not merely write words; she breathes LIFE into them, in all its passion, anger, and laughter. She makes us touch, taste, and deeply feel the essence of human existence.”
Diego Bastianutti, author of A Fistful of Soil/ Per un Pugno di Terra, winner of the Scritture di Frontiera, 2008

Back in the Days
Friday nite meant all of us met up
and we’d be ‘stylin’
fixin’ to dance the Madison
and Jive like there was no tomorrow.
Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog
and Nigger was a fightin’ word.
And all the Canadian guys would stand around and posture
And toss a dance challenge to the American G.I.s who came to town to take all their girls
(Not that they wanted us Black girls
before the American guys came on the scene).
Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog
And Nigger was a fightin’ word.
One night
some White guys surrounded Bunny Lane outside.
I think they figured they could take on

this slightly built little Black guy.

They sure didn’t like Black guys!
(Cause these days they took all the girls
and won every dance contest...
no problem.)
Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog
And Nigger was a fightin’ word
Well Bunny didn’t run.
He didn’t cower,
and he didn’t say a word.

He just backed up carefully
and turned in a circle slowly
(to survey how many of the guys surrounding him
were gonna fight him).
Then he took off his shoes,
he took off his socks,
and crouched in a Kung Fu Tiger Pose
and gestured with a few short Come on, bring it on motions
and all those guys took off like flies.
God! I wish you coulda been there.
We had so much fun!
Back in the days when a Bitch was a dog
And Nigger was a fightin’ word.

 Canadian Literature aims to foster a wider academic interest in the Canadian literary field, and publishes a wide range of material from Canadian and international scholars, writers, and poets. Each issue contains a variety of critical articles, an extensive book reviews section, and a selection of original poetry.

BACK IN THE DAYS by Addena Sumter-Freitag Reviewed by: Atef Laouyene

In Back in the Days, the seventh-generation African Canadian Addena Sumter-Freitag takes us on a memorably intimate journey, relating her experiences growing up as a black girl in Winnipeg’s North End in the 1950s. Deeply sorrowful at times and sharply acerbic at others, Sumter-Freitag’s will undoubtedly become one of the most prominent poetic voices of Canada’s Black community. Although her idiom occasionally verges on the prosaic and the mundanely anecdotal (perhaps due to her theatre background), her emotional sincerity is little short of breathtaking. Playwright, performance artist, and poet, Sumter-Freitag brings her poems to life by fusing the poetically suggestive with the brutally honest and the brazenly humorous with the unspeakably tragic.

Back in the Days is a collection of poems gracefully interlaced with pieces of creative non-fiction and touchingly rendered by the same speaker in Sumter-Freitag’s earlier one-woman play, Stay Black and Die. Drawing on her childhood memories and stamping her idiom with black speech patterns, Sumter-Freitag succeeds in weaving a riveting, multi-voiced, and multi-generational family portrait, one that mirrors the collective lived experiences of racialized Black minorities both in the US and in Canada. A host of characters make their appearance in this family portrait: the uncommunicative but attractively melancholy father, with whom Sumter-Freitag has a special fascination; the strict but selflessly indefatigable mother; the shell-shocked cousins; the cousins who taught her the facts of life; the uncle who was assassinated by the clan; and the other uncle who enlisted in the Great War only to find himself building ditches and shovel[ing] the shit in the latrines. Within Sumter-Freitag’s poetic breath, these characters are generously accommodated, not because they have been part of her coming-of-age journey, but because their long-buried stories will hopefully bring to public consciousness the violence of racial politics that continues to structure the Black community’s social existence. That the book has made it into the school curriculum now is, without doubt, a plain testament to its relevance and merit.

From “Of Violence and Poetry” 
by Atef Laouyene.

Addena’s first book Stay Black & Die is a funny and challenging one-woman play about growing up black in Winnipeg’s North End during the 1950s and ’60s. It’s about growing up in a dysfunctional home, about being the only black family in a Post-World War II, immigrant, Winnipeg neighbourhood. A young girl, Penny triumphs in the face of sexism and racism.
The title comes from an expression that Addena’s mother often used. “She realized by the time I came along, ‘Let this kid know right away who she is, what’s happening, what to expect.’ So she always kept saying, ‘Girl, there’s only two things you gotta do. And that’s stay black, and die.’”
Stay Black and Die was the recipient of Theatre BC’s Canadian National Playwriting Competition in 1993 and the Frankie Award in 1999 for Best Play at the Montreal Fringe Festival.

Press Reviews of Stay Black & Die
“Stay Black & Die Is Poignant & Provocative! Brilliantly Drawn Characters! A Must See!”
-Winnipeg Sun
“…a great piece of writing –funny, moving, unsettling, and beautiful.. It’s brilliant!”
-Anne Fleming, The Georgia Straight
“Those who could still stand at the end of this play, did so to give Sumter-Freitag a loud Ovation!”
-Doug Nairne, Winnipeg Free Press
“Stay Black & Die gives voice to Silent Lives. Addena Sumter-Freitag exposes the pain of racism in a powerfully personal way”
-Terry McCluskey, Up Here Magazine
“This play shows the strength that come through adversity and the beauty of the human spirit.”
-Nick Carroll, The Messenger, Adelaide, Australia
“Much of the play is hilarious and sometimes even “show-stopping”- other segments are so painful and riveting you forget you are witnessing a performance worthy of thunderous applause-but when the scene fades to black, you can only sit there stunned.”
-Michelle-Lee Williams, Afro News
“A Northern Star shining in the East”
-Pat Donnelly, Montreal Gazette

July 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9810658-1-6