Wayne Grady always thought he was Irish: that was the family story. Then, 20 years ago, while killing time in a Windsor library as his wife, Merilyn Simonds, concluded some Convict Lover research, he decided to look up his family in the census.
He wasn’t Irish; he was African-American. His white-skinned father was black.
Emancipation Day, Wayne’s first novel, which hits the bookstores on the day that slaves were freed in the British Empire, tells the fictionalized story of his father’s passing from black to white through the portals of war and big-band music. Fifteen years in the writing, Emancipation Day moves from St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Wayne’s parents met, to his birthplace in Windsor, Ontario, spanning the Second World War and the early 1950s with riveting big band music and the soulful jazz reminiscent of the times.
“A haunting, memorable, believable portrait of a man so desperate to deny his heritage that he imperils his very soul,” says Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes.
Wayne is a prolific writer with an arsenal of hats: translator, journalist, editor, creative writing instructor at the University of British Columbia. With 40 books to his credit, there doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t write or do.
“You just do it,” he said. “It’s hard work and it’s long work. I’ve always got two or three projects on the go at any given time and I still do. It’s not anything new.”
Wayne is the former science editor of Equinox magazine. He has won four Science in Society awards for his science journalism and books, which include The Bone Museum, Bringing Back the Dodo, and Tree: A Life Story co-authored with David Suzuki. His book, The Great Lakes, won the American National Outdoor Book Award.
“His lively, at times poetic, descriptions of the landscapes and people he encounters along the way, and his ability to synthesize complex scientific ideas, make him the perfect intermediary between dinosaur hunters and the general reader,” writes James Grainger in a review about The Bone Museum in Quill & Quire.
Wayne has also translated 15 books, including, this year, October 1970, by Louis Hamelin. He won a Governor General’s Award for his translation of Antonine Maillet’s On the Eighth Day.
Wayne lives in Athens, Ontario, with his wife, novelist Merilyn Simonds. Together, they co-wrote Breakfast at the Exit Café (2010) about their travels in America.
Photo Credit: Bernard Clark