Tuesday 15 May 2018


The sphere of influence of Canadian literature operates around me by virtue of my place of residence and my education. Not always does a Canadian writer give off Canadian vibes, whatever those vibes might be. Canada, like many nations, comprises regional cultures and political entities, and to say one regional entity constitutes Canadianness means ignoring the uniqueness of other regional cultures. I know some Canadians resent having to read about rural life in the prairies, or pioneer life in Ontario, or urban life in Quebec, or coastal life in Newfoundland. In any event, these cliches dissolve upon close inspection. Nowadays, Margaret Atwood is the most famous Canadian writer, but not everyone knows she's Canadian: she signifies as a science fiction writer and social activist. Nevertheless, her entire corpus reflects an awareness and critique of the cliches of Canadian literature (pioneer life in Canada, urban life in Ontario).

One way to look at Canada is as a northern place whose political identity cemented itself after the humanist revolutions of Europe and, especially, the republican experiment of the United States of America. Technological innovation permitted an influx of nationalities onto its shores from all over the world; indeed, the young Canada encouraged immigration to cement its existence as a state, at first within the model of the nineteenth-century nationalism and later in the looser notion of a community of persons agreeing to identify as a group so as to participate in the globalized world.

The cultural traits of this country derive from the co-occurrrence of multiple cultures arriving within a politically designated boundary and commingling. First were the numerous indigenous peoples, whose societies were not monolithic and thus not easily roped into one category, though many Canadians have tried. Next were French merchants and farmers, and then the nations under the umbrella of the United Kingdom, itself comprising English, Scottish, and Irish peoples. Not to be underestimated is the role of American immigrants, whether the imperial loyaltists during the American war of independence or the escaped slaves and their descendents before, during and after the American war between North and South. Twentieth and twenty-first century waves of immigration have altered this nineteenth-century compendium of cultures even further.

Canadian literature reflects the country's multicultural and multilingual history and sociology.  I define the literature of Canada as writings with a bent towards the art and craft of writing, rather than writing deployed primarily for the purpose of other disciplines--commerce, government, marketing, law, and scientific and technological innovation, as well as overlaps among these disciplines.

Below are some key sources of information useful to those seeking to learn more about Canadian literature and its writers.

CanLit Guides, maintained by the scholarly journal Canadian Literature
The Canadian Encyclopedia
Magazines Canada  
The 150 Bestselling Books by Canadian Authors
Canadian bookseller Chapters Indigo's list of Canadian books 
CBC Books 

Here are twelve Canadian writers, a list reflecting, understandably, I hope, my own reading habits and experiences.

Margaret Atwood
Alice Munro
Michael Ondaatje
Lawrence Hill
Rohinton Mistry
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Robert Sawyer
Miriam Toews
Emma Donaghue
Thomas King
Leonard Cohen
Robert Munsch

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