‘In the Upper Country’ bridges Niagara libraries through Kai Thomas’s gripping debut

One Book One Niagara (OBON) has selected another title to bring readers together across Niagara.

This year, Niagara libraries have selected the novel ‘In the Upper Country’ by Kai Thomas.

Set in the backdrop of mid-18th century southwestern Ontario, ‘In the Upper Country’ is a captivating historical fiction tale that intricately entwines the lives of two women. Their paths collide unexpectedly when one of them, having recently escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad, finds herself at a critical juncture after shooting a slave hunter.

Upper Country is available at Fort Erie Public Library as well as other libraries across the region.

Credit: Kai Thomas

In addition to writing, Thomas is a carpenter and land steward. He is Afro-Canadian, born and raised in Ottawa, having descended from Trinidad and the British Isles.

Published in 2023, Upper Country was his first novel and was a national bestseller. It won the 2023 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the 2023 Governor General’s Award for Fiction and 2023 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Thomas and his novel will be featured at the 2024 OBON event taking place Tuesday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at Welland Centennial High School.

The OBON initiative is in collaboration between eleven public and two academic libraries:

  • Brock University Library
  • Fort Erie Public Library
  • Grimsby Public Library
  • Lincoln Pelham Public Library
  • Niagara College Library
  • Niagara Falls Public Library
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library
  • Port Colborne Public Library
  • St. Catharines Public Library
  • Thorold Public Library
  • Wainfleet Township Public Library
  • Welland Public Library
  • West Lincoln Public Library

The goal of the initiative is to connect community members through the shared experience of reading.

“We started One Book One Niagara to bring all the residents of Niagara together to discuss a book at a shared event,” said Kathryn Drury, chief executive and chief librarian at the Grimsby Public Library, in a written statement. “We were so pleased with last year’s turnout when we hosted Ivan Coyote and we’re thrilled to feature Kai Thomas at the 2024 event.”

On the novel itself, Drury said it has the power to “show us where we’ve been in the past but it also has the power to guide our actions in the future.”

She added, “The novel can encourage readers to think about how the country of Canada has evolved and what work still needs to be done to welcome all who live within its borders.”

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