Karolyn Smardz Frost: Writer about the Underground Railroad descended from slave who was said to have married her master in Canada





IT WAS A YEAR straight out of a book for Karolyn Smardz Frost.

2007 opened with the release of her critically acclaimed book, I’ve Got A Home In Glory Land: A Lost Tale of The Underground Railroad.

But even she couldn’t have what would happen later in the year. Late last year, she received the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction at a ceremony in Ottawa filled with memorable moments and the chance to make new friends in the Canadian publishing industry, such as Halifax poet Don Domansky, who also won the coveted prize last year for poetry.

Even now, more than a month later, she is still overwhelmed by the honour as she describes the occasion.

"There were 240 books that were shortlisted in my category alone, the non-fiction category, and that’s not counting all the books that weren’t being considered," she says.

As a result of all those long years of hard work and never-ending research, she now sees her schedule filling up alarmingly fast with speaking dates, including 24 for February alone. She has already landed a publisher for her second book, which she has begun researching, has started planning her third, and she hopes to start writing the second soon.

Based in Toronto, she treasures her time spent at her Nova Scotia home in Western Shore, even if it’s spent mostly working on her books.

"I wrote about a third of I’ve Got A Home In Glory Land in Nova Scotia," she recalled in a recent telephone interview. "I get to write overlooking the ocean. And, I’ve had a serious relationship with the Dal library."

Libraries are just one of Frost’s tools of the trade. She is an archeologist / historian who specializes in African-Canadian history, traveling all over North America to track down the details of her research. Like most good writers, she has a strong connection to her book.

"My great-grandmother is said to have been a slave in Virginia," she said in a previous interview. "The family story is that her husband was intermarried with the family of Robert E. Lee, took off his Confederate officer’s uniform after the Civil War and moved to Canada so he could marry the woman who had been his slave. She was Chinese and African American, and I have her photo along with that of her stern-faced white husband, ca. 1869, but that’s all I know. She died after bearing three children, and my grandfather, her son, died when my mother was two.

"I only know about her because my grandmother (whose husband was the one who died) sat me at the kitchen table at the age of 10 and showed me the family photos. She felt it very important that I understand that this woman, whose name she did not know, survived slavery and came to Canada with her husband. My grandmother had protested the Japanese internment in World War Two and believed in social justice more strongly than anyone I have ever met; she wanted me to know and remember that my great-grandmother had been a slave. The rest of my ancestry is Polish (my father was a concentration camp survivor), Italian, Irish, and English-Jewish so I look sort of Eastern European with red hair from the Irish side."...



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