Son helps Roger McTair complete book
June 7, 2018
Just over three years ago, Kunle Thomas called his close friend Ian Kamau to share a big idea.
He was considering producing a documentary about the ‘The Theatre Workshop' that Kamau's dad -- Roger McTair -- attempted to establish in Toronto in the 1970s. It was inspired by the 'Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW)’ started in 1959 to encourage the expression of Caribbean realities through performance.
Joe Thomas, Kunle Thomas' father, was a member of The Theatre Workshop.
“I was visiting my dad which I do every Sunday when Kunle called,” recounted Kamau who is an artistic director, designer & artist. “I walked around my father’s home that Sunday for approximately two hours talking to Kunle and one of the things he said to me was, ‘We have to keep going’.”
About seven months after that lengthy conversation, Thomas – a Toronto rapper also known as ‘Reign’ – died in June 2016 nearly a week after suffering a heart attack.
He was 40.
“I have lost of a few friends who were in my age group and my father also lost some friends since then,” said Kamau who has graduate degrees in environmental studies and innovation & strategic foresight. “Those losses had me thinking about time in terms of what time means and what we do with our time.”
When McTair was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness several years ago, he spoke about his writing and not having the opportunity to release a book.
The 74-year-old was a film director, poet and writing professor at Seneca College for 18 years.
“After dad retired, he pledged to write the book and I promised I would help him,” Kamau pointed out.
‘My Trouble with Books’, a collection of short stories, was launched on May 25 at The Theatre Centre.
Set in Toronto, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, the 13 short stories are filled with memories of childhood and adolescence as well as snapshots of McTair’s flat, calm and stoic style of writing.
“These are valuable, humorous, poignant stories, moored in a Caribbean literary aesthetic while also touching on themes of diaspora and exile,” Kamau added.
Migrating in 1969, McTair was Canada’s second Black film-maker behind Fil Fraser who passed away last December.
Telling stories through African, Trinidadian and Canadians lens, he produced nine films between 1977 and 2000.
Failing to secure a job in advertising after being told by several agencies that his Canadian experience was minimal, McTair freelanced for several years before making his first film, ‘It’s Not an Illness’
He wrote a diversity column for the ‘Toronto Star’ for nearly three years before teaming up with his ex-wife Claire Prieto in 1991 to produce ‘Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain’ that paid tribute to the life and ground-breaking work of Hodge whose pioneering projects in the 1980s established the dominant mode in African-Canadian film culture.
The daughter of late Canadian activist, author and TV personality Mairuth Sarsfield, Hodge succumbed to cancer in 1989 at age 38.
McTair also collaborated with Hodge on ‘Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community’, a feature film released in 1983 that examined the tenuous relationship between the police and residents in the Jane-Finch community, and directed ‘Jane Finch Again!’ four years later.
Last Year, Ryerson University launched a scholarship in the name of McTair who has been involved in several community initiatives, including the Black Education Project and The Library of Black People’s Literature.
Black students pursuing filmmaking studies at the university’s School of Image Arts will be the beneficiaries.
The inaugural scholarship was presented last November to integrated digital studies student Kathleen Moyana.
‘My Trouble with Books’ is available online at https://www.amazon.ca/My-Trouble-Books-Other-Fiction/dp/1775193500.