Rage against the CanLit machine

There's an interesting article in The Toronto Star about the lack of recognition exciting young Canadian writers are getting from the "established" Canadian literary community, prompting many of them to find success outside of the country or by simply moving to New York/Brooklyn.

I think many of the young Canuck writers Marche mentions in his article are doing some great things, particularly Sheila Heti and Heather O'Neill (I haven't had a chance to read Bezmogis and Martel hasn't published anything since Life of Pi) but it's a shame their contributions to CanLit are seemingly being ignored by the so-called big fish (with the exception of O'Neill whose book Lullabies for Little Criminals was chosen for Canada Reads 2007 and is currently one of the finalists for the Governor General's Awards).

From The Toronto Star:

Brooklyn's books are like toys, meant to excite and give pleasure and challenge a little bit. In Canada, we are the oatmeal of world literature. We are on the cutting edge of blandness.

If you think I'm being extreme, just look at recent comments by Ellen Seligman, the publisher of McClelland and Stewart, one of the most powerful people in Canadian publishing. Her response to the Giller list this year struck me as a devastating assessment of where we stand: "I don't think prizes are necessarily for young writers," she said in The Globe.

It is a remarkable sentence. There are two ways to read it. 1) Young writers don't write well enough to deserve prizes. 2) Even if they do write well enough, only old writers deserve attention. Because that is what the Giller is, a massive dollop of attention. Seligman says it openly: Only books written by old people are worth serious attention.

There are young writers in Canada, lots of them, but they tend to be Brooklynish. They, too, write about kids: Heather O'Neill in Lullabies for Little Children, David Bezmogis in Natasha, Sheila Heti in The Middle Stories, Yann Martel in Life of Pi. These are the exciting books that have come out of Canada in the last little while. All of them were written by young people. All of them found their success outside of Canada: Heti at McSweeneys, Bezmogis at The New Yorker, O'Neill through a friend at The New York Times Magazine, Martel through the Booker. None of them was nominated for the Giller.

More here.

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