Denham Jolly’s Autobiography wins Toronto Book Award

Not always happy with life in Canada but always Jolly

By Stephen Weir, as published in the Caribbean Camera

The standing O began before City of Toronto Librarian Vickery Bowles, could finish announcing Denham Jolly’s name! On Thursday night in the Toronto Reference Library’s Bram and Bluma Appel Salon, Jamaican Canadian businessman, radio pioneer, and now author, won the 2017 Toronto Book Award for his autobiography In the Black: My Life.

 “We’re really pleased that Mr. Jolly’s book, In the Black: My Life, has been selected as the winner,” said Vickery Bowles, City Librarian. “The book gives voice to a unique kind of Canadian experience that has historically not been heard.”
Established by Toronto City Council in 1974, the Toronto Book Awards honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. The annual awards offer $15,000 in prize money: finalists receive $1,000 and the winning author is awarded $10,000.
Jolly beat out 4 other Toronto writers to win this prestigious book award.  The jury that picked his new book said that “Denham Jolly should be a household name. In the Black shines a light on many of the hurdles faced by immigrants trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. From politicians to community leaders, no punches are pulled as Jolly recounts the hurdles that littered his path to business, personal and community success. In the Black recounts Jolly’s journey from a happy boyhood in Jamaica to business success in Toronto publishing Contrast and founding FLOW 93.5, Canada’s first Black-owned radio station.”

It makes for interesting reading to see just how many activist causes Jolly joined here in Toronto. He started the Black Business and Professional Association and was a vocal member of an endless string of action groups.

He talks about demonstrating when a mentally disturbed Black man, Lester Donaldson is shot by police. "After the demonstration, a number of us, including Charlie Roach and Jean Augustine, went to a meeting called by Dudley Laws to launch the Black Action Defense Committee. BADC was formed to fight against this sort of police killing. I was named as part of the founding group, but in this case the moving force really was Dudley Laws."

"There probably is a file with my name on it," said Jolly. "In 1991 the police were clearly obsessed with nailing the hides of uppity Blacks to the wall."

As he aged he spent more time in keeping FLOW afloat than in demonstrating. He was cited for his cultural contributions - he won the Black Media Pioneer Award and the African/Canadian Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Denham Jolly’s autobiography is a quintessentially Canadian success story,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre), Chair of the City’s Economic Development Committee. “His memoir reveals how the lessons of his childhood in Jamaica enabled him to have an enduring and inspiring influence on Toronto’s business and cultural communities.”

This is not the first honour the City of Toronto has bestowed upon  Jolly. Four months ago, as ECW Press was publishing In the Black, the city honoured him by naming a new road Jolly Way in Scarborough. It is s a tribute to a man who hasn't always been happy in Canada but has always been loud, proud and uniquely Jolly!


Denham Jolly is the first Caribbean Canadian author to win the Toronto Book Award for a nonfiction book. However he is not the first Caribbean Canadian writer to win the award – three other authors with deep Caribbean roots have won the $10,000 prize for works of fiction. 

Previous winners are:

·      Rabindranath Maharaj (Trinidad/Cdn)
The Amazing Absorbing Boy
Knopf Canada

·      Austin Clarke (Barbados/Cdn)
Thomas Allen Publishers

·      Dionne Brand (Trinidad/Cdn)
What We All Long For
Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Denham Jolly and the Toronto Book Awards trophy


" I am honoured! I am flabbergasted and I am very happy about this." said Denham Jolly upon learning his book, In the Black, had won the 2017 Toronto Book Award. 

"I want you to know that just because the success of my book, my feeling haven't changed about how things are in this city.  In fact, they have been reinforced by recent events involving the police and they way they treat people of colour, be they black or brown.  There is still little recourse open to people (who have issues with the police)."

" I feel strongly about this. There several generations of police that continue to carry on this problem. Just look at what at happened to that black youth who lost an eye in Whitby - it involved two generations of police. I believe there are cover ups still going on." 

" Because of this blook I will be speaking out. The Award gives me a stronger platform. I don't see myself writing a part two, because I do plan to enjoy my retirement (when he is not speaking out about human rights in Canada)."


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