The Ottawa Public Library is celebrating Black History Month by showcasing the literary talent flourishing in the city.

Kai Thomas, an award-winning author who was born and raised in Ottawa, will be in the spotlight tonight for a reading and discussion of his acclaimed novel, In the Upper Country at Ben Franklin Place in Nepean.

Thomas’s storytelling is set along the path of the Underground Railroad and it offers a unique perspective on the history of North America. The novel unfolds in Black communities in Ontario, providing a rich tapestry of stories.

Thomas’s novel secured the prestigious 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize —  named for co-founders Margaret Atwood and her late partner Graeme Gibson.

Thomas’s unique local perspective is rooted in the community, offering a relatable and authentic experience for readers.

Beyond winning the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, “In the Upper Country” was also nominated for the 2023 Governor General’s Award for Fiction and for the 2023 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Cecil Kawsi, a Ghanaian studying in Ottawa, told Capital Current, that he believes the city could do more to mark the month.

“They could do more Black events for their communities, especially in schools, because I feel like there isn’t much,” Kawsi said.

The active member of Carleton University’s Black Student Association suggested that, in particular, more events could be organized for youth.  

The evening event featuring Thomas promises more than a literary discussion. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the diverse experiences, triumphs, and challenges faced by Black communities, both historically and in contemporary times, organizers say.

This year’s Black History Month in Canada is all about “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build,” the federal government says — a perfect fit with a presentation of Thomas’s novel as it serves as a testament to the heritage of Black achievement, celebrating the past and present contributions of Black individuals in Canada.

Omolewa Babalola, a Nigerian student in London, Ont., said she finds herself frequently blogging about her experience as a Black woman in Canada. “It’s really important that we celebrate Black accomplishments everyday because there is so much that our community has to offer.”

For those unable to attend the free event in person, the event will be live-streamed on the Ottawa Public Library’s YouTube page.

Tickets are available at Eventbrite.