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Last Modified: September 8, 2022
Uche Umezurike interviews Cheryl Foggo graphic
Uche Umezurike interviews Cheryl Foggo

Author image courtesy of the author.

Cheryl Foggo is a multiple award-winning playwright, author and filmmaker, whose work over the last 30 years has focused on the lives of Western Canadians of African descent. Recent works include the release of her NFB feature documentary John Ware Reclaimed, available on nfb.ca, as well as the 30th anniversary edition of her book Pourin’ Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West. Recent journalism can be found on CBC Black on the Prairies and in Westword Magazine. Cheryl is the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Outstanding Artist Award, The Doug and Lois Mitchell Outstanding Calgary Artist Award and the Arts, Media and Entertainment Award from the Calgary Black Chambers, all in 2021. She is a 2022 inductee into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Uche Umezurike: You have been so busy, Cheryl. Between 2022 and 2023, your plays Heaven and John Ware Reclaimed will receive multiple productions across the country. That’s great.

Cheryl Foggo: Thanks, Uche. I am glad to say that I recently wrapped shooting of a short film about northern Saskatchewan’s Black History, scheduled to premiere in 2023.

Whoa! You have devoted ample resources to publicizing the stories of John Ware. You published a play, John Ware Reimagined and a documentary, John Ware Reclaimed. Why was it essential for you to tell Canadians about him?

I’ll start with a quick clarification. You’re correct, I wrote a play called John Ware Reimagined. It has been produced, but it’s not published yet. I’m working on that. Although John Ware is famous enough to have had seven geographic locations named after him in Alberta, most Canadians have never heard of him. It’s important for all Canadians to know that Black history lives in every part of the nation. Telling the story of John Ware also opens a conversation about how extensive our history is in this part of the world. John Ware was not an isolated figure of Blackness here. There were other Black cowboys, translators, businesspeople, etc. during his time.

What do you hope they can take away from watching your documentary on him?

I hope viewers come away with an understanding of the contributions John Ware made to the culture of Alberta, and by extension, to Canada. I also hope viewers see that the success of his life was a team project; he and his wife Mildred built that life together.

So, you are saying representation is important?

Indeed, the importance of representation. The importance of creating opportunities for racialized people to tell our stories from our perspectives. In my experience, Black Canadians (no matter where we originate) feel more connected to our history when our stories are made accessible.

What did you discover in the process of making John Ware Reclaimed? What kind of conversation did you hope for it to stimulate among Canadians?

I don’t know that I would describe some of my experiences during the process of making the film as discoveries. I would describe some of the bumps along the way as frustrating affirmations of how challenging it is to do research about Black people who were enslaved. John Ware’s story opens a conversation about other figures from Black life on the prairies. A pattern I’ve noticed in the way Canadian history has been told is the selecting out of individuals because these figures were or are deemed to be exceptional. This system doesn’t acknowledge that these individuals were usually part of communities of other Black people, and that they are connected to multiple aspects of Black history.

You mentioned elsewhere that you plan to write a book on John Ware. Have you gotten around to writing it?

The book is waiting in the wings for now as I focus on completing other projects.

Pourin’ Down Rain tells—or instead celebrates—the lives of Black Canadians in Western Canada from the 20th century, and some issues in your memoir still resonate at this moment. What was it like for you to write this book?

I appreciate your use of the word celebrate. There is a lot of love in our communities. I was just beginning as a writer when I wrote the first edition of Pourin’ Down Rain more than 30 years ago, so although it was an exciting project to embark on, I also had some early career anxiety to work through. It’s not a long book, but it took a long time to write! I experienced the birth of my first child, and I also experienced the death of my brother Ronny during the writing. Looking back on that time brings to mind some precious memories. I travelled across the four western provinces to interview relatives, which was pure joy. As for the issues raised in the book still resonating today, that is true. Sadly true.

You have been successful as a novelist, memoirist, playwright, screenwriter, and filmmaker, so I wonder if you see yourself writing a poetry book anytime soon?

I suppose anything is possible, but for now I don’t see a poetry book in my future.

Uche Umezurike is an assistant professor of English at the University of Calgary. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems. He is the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021) and Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021). His poetry collection, there’s more, is forthcoming from the University of Alberta Press.

Pourin’ Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West

Cheryl Foggo (CA)

Published: Jan 24, 2020 by Brush Education
ISBN: 9781550598339
Double Wahala, Double Trouble

Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike (CA)

Published: Nov 26, 2021 by Griots Lounge Publishing Canada
ISBN: 9781777688400