Author Charles Saunders Passed Away At 73

Author Charles R. Saunders passed away last May at the age of 73. He was honored this past Saturday (January 23) in a virtual memorial attended by about a dozen people in the United States and Canada. 

According to the New York Times, Saunders’ remains have been in an unmarked grave in Nova Scotia since his death. 

Saunders is hailed as a trailblazer in the literary world for his contributions to the establishment of the genre known as Sword and Soul. 

His work reimagined worlds to include Black characters as heroes and infused African mythologies. Fans were especially fond of his books that followed warrior hero “Imaro” who battled human and supernatural enemies as a part of a Black civilization that directly contrasted the imagery of white writers. 

“Charles gave us that fictional hero that looked like us and existed in a world based on our origins,” Milton J. Davis, a Black writer and host of the memorial, said in an email to the Times

“He did it without using the ‘struggle’ narrative that traditional publishers seem to require from Black authors. Imaro’s struggles and triumphs were personal, not ‘racial,’ which for me was a breath of fresh air.” 

Taaq Kirksey, an organizer of Saunders’ memorial, had reached out to the reclusive author in 2004 after becoming a fan of his work. The two had communicated on and off for several years. They had even discussed getting Saunders’ work turned into a TV series or movie, something Kirksey said he’s close to getting completed.

Crew members doing work on Saunders’ apartment building in Nova Scotia found him deceased, though a cause hasn’t been determined. Police couldn’t find any relatives or friends locally, meaning his remains were handled by the Public Trustee of Nova Scotia.

Jon Tattrie, a journalist and former colleague of Saunders, wrote about his death in an article published by CBC News last September. “By law, the public purse covers the cost of the plot, and of the burial. But it doesn’t cover a headstone,” he wrote. This prompted Tattrie and others to start a GoFundMe page to raise funds for a headstone and monument of Imaro, his most well-known fictional character. Both, according to Tattrie, should be in place in the next few months, and the group hopes to have a service at his grave in May to mark the anniversary of his death. 

Saunders was born in 1946 in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in 1968. He moved to Canada, and eventually started teaching at Algonquin College in Ottawa. 

He moved to Nova Scotia and began working at The Daily News in 1989 as an editor and writer, covering issues in the Black community there. 

As an author, Saunders used his creativity to bring worlds to life. In an 1984 interview published by MVmedia in 2014, he said, “There is so much source material available on African culture and folklore that I would have to live indefinitely to do justice to it all.” 

Photo: Getty Images

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