During her initial residency in Canada, while teaching as an instructor at Bickford Park High School in Toronto, Afua began to perform her poetry at a variety of Toronto’s spoken word spaces such as Fall Out Shelter, Strictly Ital and Trojan Horse…Shortly thereafter, Cooper joined Gayap Riddim Drummers as resident poet and percussionist, touring Canada with a brand of poetry infused with womanist perspectives and contemporary social commentary. (Womanism, while similar to feminism, designates a movement that arose in response to racial and gender-based oppression experienced by women of colour.)
Cooper also performed with major dub poets Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph and Devon Haughton during a period described by some cultural critics as a “black cultural renaissance.” Her first book of poetry, Breaking Chains was published in 1983, concurrent with her enrollment in the African Studies and Women’s Studies programs at the University of Toronto.
In 1988, that same year, Afua had a residency fellowship at the Banff School of Fine Arts (today the Banff Centre) and wrote two books of poetry: The Red Caterpillar on College Street (1989) for children; and Memories Have Tongue (1992), a finalist for the 1992 Casa de las Américas Prize (seeChildren’s Literature in English).
Afua Cooper is remembered for her opening of the Nelson Mandela celebrations held in Queen’s Park, Toronto, in June 1990. It was there that Cooper performed her poetry to a crowd estimated at 25,000 who assembled in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Cooper has also been interviewed and performed live on CBC, CKLN, CIUT, and CHRY radio. She has appeared on numerous television shows in her capacity as a poet and scholar.
Afua Cooper is a founding member of the Toronto Dub Poets Collective (2002), which is the only grassroots poetry organization in Canada. In 1993, she was central in organizing the first International Dub Poetry Festival and Conference held in Toronto, which brought together over 87 dub poets from around the world. She also was one of the main organizers of the 2004, 2005, 2006 and the 2009 Dub Poetry Festivals.