Nourbese Phillips

M. NourbeSe Philip

Poet / Writer, Mercury Press, Toronto, ON. Born: Moriah, Tobago.

M. NourbeSe Philip is a writer and poet who has produced several published works. Her first play, Coups and Calypsos, was produced in both the UK and in Toronto (1999), while a stage adaptation of Harriet’s Daughter, her popular novel for young adults, was successfully presented in workshops (2000 and 2001). She has also been a lecturer at the University of Toronto (1992-97), and at the Ontario College of Art and Design (1993-94). A lawyer by training, she practised, from 1973-82, with the Parkdale Community Legal Services, then with Jemmot and Philip and as a sole practitioner.


Honours: Including the University of the West Indies, Writer-in-Residence (2010); University of Windsor, Writer-in-Residence (2008-09); inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada 2 (2006); Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Resident (2005); Writer-in-Residence, McMaster University (2003); Women of Distinction Arts Award, YWCA (2001); Rebel for a Cause Award, Elizabeth Fry Society; Dora Award finalist for Coups and Calypsos (1999); Toronto Arts Award finalist for Harriet’s Daughter (1995); Guggenheim Fellow, Poetry (1990-91); Casa de las Americas Prize for She Tries her Tongue (1988).

Works: Include a book-length poem, Zong!; play, Coups and Calypsos (1999); collected essays, A Genealogy of Resistance (1997); She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks (1988), Frontiers: Essays & Writings in Racism & Culture (1993); novel, Harriet’s Daughter (1988).

Reviewed in: WWCW; WWIC; Mango Season (2000); Africana Encyclopaedia.

Education: LLB (1973) and MA, University of Western Ontario (1970); BSc, Economics, University of West Indies, Jamaica (1968).

Favourite book? I don’t have a favourite book. I am attached to different books for different reasons. For instance, I am attached to Anne of Green Gables which I read as a child; the feistiness of young Anne was an inspiration to me. Many years later, that same quality would show up in Maragaret Cruickshank, the heroine of my own book, Harriet’s Daughter. I am also deeply attached to The Known World by Pulitzer winner Edward P. Jones, which chronicles the life of enslaved and freed Africans in the United States. On completion of that book, I felt as if I had had my eye to a keyhole and had observed through this tiny opening, an entire world containing the intricate and often painful lives of all the characters. The book continues to reverberate within me.

Favourite quote? “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man… ” – Hamlet

Given the chance, what would you love to do that you haven’t done yet? Finish the work I have begun.

What inspires you? Life and its sheer abundance.

Why do you do what you do? Simply because I can’t do anything else.

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