From The Guardian:
At less than 200 years old, Canada is an infant in national terms: like the bullied younger sibling of a higher-achieving elder one, it is often dismissed as a bit innocent, naive and unformed. Robertson Davies, one of Canada's foremost writers, described it as "a country you worry about" and the prime minister Stephen Harper recently established a cabinet portfolio for "Canadian Identity", perhaps in an attempt to help the nation define itself on the international landscape as something other than a left-wing, polite America awash in maple syrup.
But though I can't help but bristle when I come across people being dismissive of Canadian writing - I was disheartened when I worked in publishing to find that "Canadian" is an adjective often used to justify not publishing a book in the UK - I can't really blame those who overlook CanLit. I was once equally uninformed. Although I grew up a mere 200 miles from the border, which is inches in North American terms, I am sorry to say that I spent very little time even thinking about Canada, much less reading about it, while I lived in the States.
But then I went to study in Montreal, where I was swiftly - within hours - disabused of the south-of-the-border assumption that everyone in Canada is a bit sorry they're not American. And once I began to tackle my required reading, I realised that my Canadian colleagues were unequivocally correct in their rejection of Americanness: although the world seems to regard Canada as the US's slightly slow cousin, Canadians are quietly and deservedly smug about their rich and distinctive culture, which includes a distinguished literary canon.
This short piece from The Guardian is almost a week old but is still worth reading just because it shows the general ignorance the UK and the US have about Canadian literature and culture. Jean Hannah Edelstein's intentions were good but the execution of the piece is still rather shaky. Especially given the fact that a whole country's complicated literary and artistic identity was written about in less than 1000 words.
Firstly, one of the names Edelstein singles out is "Miranda" Toews, author of the best-selling novel A Complicated Kindness. This one gets a very positive review and we are told that it "cleanly trumps Holden Caulfield". Pretty high praise for a non-existent author. The book was written by one Miriam Toews and not "Miranda" Toews. I know, I'm being nitpicky but at least get the author's name right.
I can't even begin to describe all the great writers that have come out of Canada and yet while defending Canada's writing, Edelstein only barely mentions a handful. I don't really want to name drop without writing about the merits of each author but at this point it needs to be pointed out that there are great Canadian writers out there besides the often mentioned "Queen of Canlit" Margaret Atwood.
Do some of these names ring a bell?: Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel, M.G. Vassanji, Sheila Watson, Leonard Cohen, Anne Carson, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Michel Tremblay, Mordecai Richler, Douglas Coupland, Wayne Johnston, Northrup Frye, Michael Redhill, Margaret Laurence, and Stephen Leacock, to name a few.
And don't get me started on Canadian poets because I could probably go on for ages. For those of you interested, though, there are several good anthologies and resources out there where you can learn about the wide range of Canadian poetry being written today. Anthologies like Shift & Switch edited by D. A. Beaulieu, Jason Christie, and Angela Rawlings; Open Field edited by Sina Queyras and Molly Peacock; and The New Canon edited by Carmine Starnino, represent the diversity and complexity of contemporary Canadian poetry. I'd also recommend checking out ditch, a website that acts as a resource on "alternative" Canadian verse, which tends to get even less attention than so-called mainstream Canadian poetry.