The end of the year: a time when people reflect on the most significant developments in their field, and, honestly, on myriad unrelated occurrences and happenings as well. Where are we going and what have we done? This year, I think the conversation about literature in Canada belongs to Canada’s female readers and writers for a few key reasons.
Congratulations are due to the winners of the major literary prizes of the season. Not only will their publishers sell copies – increases from the thousands to the, well, dozens, depending on the genre – but their names will circulate more freely in the public sphere, their reputations increase substantially, and so they will find and delight more readers. We readers are, ultimately, the beneficiaries of these prizes when we find a new author to love, when we are introduced to a new genre we may investigate and savour for decades to come, when we introduce other readers in turn to books that please them.
Canadian literature has long had a thematic interest in the uncanny, the strange, the frightening, the unknown. From the magical and sometimes terrifying inhabitants of First Nations myths and legends, to the paranoiac claustrophobia imbuing early literature, identified by Northrop Frye as the “garrison mentality,” to the continued dread within contemporary literature of the myriad options for death and damage both Canadian wilderness and urban jungle afford, Canadian literary output can seem fixated on terror. And it’s certainly not the only artistic medium with such a focus – the Canadian film world has David Cronenberg, of course, and a new film festival called Blood in the Snow. Read More
It’s that time of year again: autumn is upon us, with the tang of decay in the air and the scent of paper burning in the woodstove. And paper, bound into books and printed in interesting and artisanal fonts, is the order of the day for lovers of Canadian literature in autumn. Forthwith: the shortlisted nominees for the three principal English-language fiction prizes of the season, for your readerly delectation, and possibly a quick trip to the local bookmaker on the corner.
Congratulations to all the winners of the Governor General’s Literary Awards for 2011! In the English category, those recognized for their superb publications this year are:
Fiction – Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (Anansi)
Non-Fiction – Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life and Times (Knopf)
Poetry – Phil Hall, Killdeer (BookThug)
At this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in reader anxiety: why haven’t I picked up Book X yet? Friend Y has already read book Z and I haven’t! Zounds, I still haven’t read all the shortlisted books from last year’s Prize A!
Some of this stress makes sense, as after all, books named to prize shortlists tend to be important and interesting works of art, and well worth reading. But some of the stress is fuelled by social competition, and a sense of commitment that doesn’t always make sense.
Aaand they’re off! It’s the Rogers Writers’ Trust first out of the gate, with the Giller close behind and the Governor General’s Literary Awards coming up fast. Whatever you think of the growth of “prize culture,” in Canada autumn is the season of words on the page, Word on the Street, and the hope, speculation, and intrigue of our major literary competitions. It’s a season when CanLit captures the attention of the public more than ever.
[Editor’s note: This is the third excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others. They will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on Alistair MacLeod.]
So my phone calls became more frequent, and more urgent, especially after Alistair rashly allowed that it was possible that he might finish the book in time for fall. This was a key moment of misunderstanding: when Alistair said “fall,” he meant that he would finish the book in the fall; what I chose to hear was that he would finish in time for us to publish his book in the fall, after the usual months of publishing preparations. I have referred to him as a stone carver, chipping out each perfect word with loving care. Certainly my confidence in the excellence of his writing was such that — without having read a word of the manuscript — I felt able to put the book in the Fall 1999 catalogue (going to the printer at the end of May) and to write him a letter in April outlining very precisely the generous terms we would offer for the new book, for which we would hold “a place of honour” in our fall list.