Canadian literature

Canadian literature

Criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes. Critics against such thematic criticism in Canadian literature, such as Frank Davey, have argued that a focus on theme diminishes the appreciation of complexity of the literature produced in the country, and creates the impression that Canadian literature is sociologically-oriented.

While Canadian literature, like the literature of every nation state, is influenced by its socio-political contexts, Canadian writers have produced a variety of genres. Influences on Canadian writers are broad, both geographically and historically.

Canada's dominant cultures were originally British and French, as well as aboriginal. After Prime Minister Trudeau's "Announcement of Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework," in 1971, Canada gradually became home to a more diverse population of readers and writers. The country's literature has been strongly influenced by international immigration, particularly in recent decades.

Canadian literature collectively is often called CanLit or Canlit.

Characteristics of Canadian literature

Canada’s literature, whether written in English or French, often reflects the Canadian perspective on: (1) nature, (2) frontier life, and (3) Canada’s position in the world, all three of which tie in to the garrison mentality. Canada's ethnic and cultural diversity are reflected in its literature, with many of its most prominent writers focusing on ethnic life.

The problem of Canadian literature

Because of its size and breadth, Canadian literature is often divided into sub-categories.

*The most common is to categorize it by region or province.
*Another way is to categorize it by author. For instance, the literature of Canadian women, Acadians, Aboriginal peoples in Canada, and Irish Canadians have been anthologize as bodies of work.
*A third is to divide it by literary period, such as "Canadian postmoderns" or "Canadian Poets Between the Wars."

Traits of Canadian literature

Traits common to works of Canadian literature include:
*Failure as a theme: Failure and futility feature heavily as themes in many notable works; for instance, "Not Wanted on the Voyage" by Timothy Findley or "Kamouraska" by Anne Hebert.
*Humour: Serious subject matter is often laced with humour. See also: Canadian humour.
*Mild anti-Americanism: There is marked sentiment of anti-American often in the form of gentle satire. While it is sometimes perceived as malicious, it often presents a friendly rivalry between the two nations
*Multiculturalism: Since World War Two, multiculturalism has been an important theme. Writers using this theme include Mordecai Richler (known for novels such as "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz"), Margaret Laurence, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje -- The English Patient"-- and prolific Chinese Canadian writer Wayson Choy.
*Nature (and a "human vs. nature" tension): Reference to nature is common in Canada's literature. Nature is sometimes portrayed like an enemy, and sometimes like a divine force.
*Satire and irony: Satire is probably one of the main elements of Canadian literature.
*Self-deprecation: Another common theme in Canadian literature.
*Self-evaluation by the reader
*Search for Self-Identity: Some Canadian novels revolve around the theme of the search for one's identity and the need to justify one's existence. A good example is Robertson Davies's "Fifth Business", in which the main character Dunstan Ramsay searches for a new identity by leaving his old town of Deptford.
*Southern Ontario Gothic: A sub-genre which critiques the stereotypical Protestant mentality of Southern Ontario; many of Canada's most internationally famous authors write in this style.
*The underdog hero: The most common hero of Canadian literature, an ordinary person who must overcome challenges from a large corporation, a bank, a rich tycoon, a government, a natural disaster, and so on.
*Urban vs. rural: A variant of the underdog theme which involves a conflict between urban culture and rural culture, usually portraying the rural characters as morally superior. Often, as in Stephen Leacock's "Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town" or Alistair MacLeod's "No Great Mischief", the simplicity of rural living is lost in the city.

French-Canadian literature

In 1802, the Lower Canada legislative library was founded, being one of the first in Occident, the first in the Canadas. For comparison, the library of the British house of commons was founded sixteen years later. It should be noted the library had some rare titles about geography, natural science and letters. All books it contained were moved to the Canadian parliament in Montreal when the two Canadas, lower and upper, were united. On April 25th 1849, a dramatic event occurred: the Canadian parliament was burned by furious people along with thousands of French Canadian books and a few hundred of English books. This is why some people still affirm today, falsely, that from the early settlements until the 1820s, Quebec had virtually no literature. Though historians, journalists, and learned priests published, overall the total output that remain from this period and that had been kept out of the burned parliament is small.

It was the rise of Quebec patriotism and the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion, in addition to a modern system of primary school education, which led to the rise of French-Canadian fiction. "L'influence d'un livre" by Philippe-Ignace-Francois Aubert de Gaspé is widely regarded as the first French-Canadian novel. The genres which first became popular were the rural novel and the historical novel. French authors were influential, especially authors like Balzac.

In 1866, Father Henri-Raymond Casgrain became one of Quebec's first literary theorists. He argued that literature's goal should be to project an image of proper Catholic morality. However, a few authors like Louis-Honoré Fréchette and Arthur Buies broke the conventions to write more interesting works.

This pattern continued until the 1930s with a new group of authors educated at the Université Laval and the Université de Montréal. Novels with psychological and sociological foundations became the norm. Authors such as Gabrielle Roy and Anne Hébert, for the first time, began to earn international acclaim. During this period, Quebec theatre, which had previously been melodramas and comedies, became far more involved.

French-Canadian literature began to greatly expand with the turmoil of the Second World War, the beginnings of industrialization in the 1950s, and most especially the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. French-Canadian literature also began to attract a great deal of attention globally, with Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet winning the Prix Goncourt. An experimental branch of Québécois literature also developed; for instance the poet Nicole Brossard wrote in a formalist style.In 1979, Roch Carrier wrote the story "The Hockey Sweater", which highlighted the cultural and social tensions between English and French speaking Canada.

See also: List of Quebec writers, Literature of Quebec, List of French Canadian writers from outside Quebec

Contemporary Canadian literature: late 20th to 21st century

Following World War II, writers such as Mavis Gallant, Mordecai Richler, Norman Levine, Margaret Laurence and Irving Layton brought a Modernist influence to Canadian Literature that had been previously missing. This influence, at first, was not broadly appreciated. Norman Levine's Canada Made Me [] , a travelogue that presented a sour interpretation of the country in 1958, for example, was widely rejected.

After 1967, the country's centennial year, the national government increased funding to publishers and numerous small presses began operating throughout the country. []

In the late 1970s, science fiction fan and scholar of Canadian literature Susan Wood helped pioneer the study of feminist science fiction, and (along with immigrant editor Judith Merril) brought new respectability to the study of Canadian science fiction, paving the way for the rise of such phenomena as the French-Canadian science fiction magazine "Solaris".

By the 1990s, Canadian literature was viewed as some of the world's best. [ [ | Robert Fulford's column about the international success of Canadian literature] ]

Canadian authors have accumulated international awards:
*In 1992, Michael Ondaatje became the first Canadian to win the Booker Prize for "The English Patient."
*Atwood won the Booker in 2000 for "The Blind Assassin" and Yann Martel won it in 2002 for "Life of Pi."
*Alistair MacLeod won the 2001 IMPAC Award for "No Great Mischief" and Rawi Hage won it in 2008 for "De Niro's Game."
*Carol Shields's "The Stone Diaries" won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and in 1998 her novel "Larry's Party" won the Orange Prize.
*Douglas Coupland has also achieved significant success for his work, particularly "".

Notable figures

Because Canada only officially became a country on July 1, 1867, it has been argued that literature written before this time was colonial. For example, Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill, English sisters who adopted the country as their own, moved to Canada in 1832. They recorded their experiences as pioneers in Parr Traill's "The Backwoods of Canada" (1836) and "Canadian Crusoes" (1852), and Moodie's "Roughing It in the Bush" (1852) and "Life in the Clearings" (1853). However, both women wrote until their deaths, placing them in the country for more than 50 years and certainly well past Confederation. Moreover, their books often dealt with survival and the rugged Canadian environment; these themes re-appear in other Canadian works, including Margaret Atwood's "Survival". Moodie and Parr Traill's sister, Agnes Strickland, remained in England and wrote elegant royal biographies, creating a stark contrast between Canadian and English literatures.

However, one of the earliest "Canadian" writers virtually always included in Canadian literary anthologies is Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796–1865), who died just two years before Canada's official birth. He is remembered for his comic character, Sam Slick, who appeared in "The Clockmaker" and other humorous works throughout Haliburton's life.

Arguably, the best-internationally-known living Canadian writer (especially after the recent passing of Canadian greats, Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler and Timothy Findley) is Margaret Atwood, a prolific novelist, poet, and literary critic.

This group, along with Alice Munro, who has been called the best living writer of short stories in English, ["For a long time Alice Munro has been compared with Chekhov; John Updike would add Tolstoy, and AS Byatt would say Guy de Maupassant and Flaubert. Munro is often called the best living writer of short stories in English; the words "short story" are frequently dropped." [,,1055426,00.html "Riches of a Double Life", Ada Edemariam, Guardian Online] , retrieved 11 October 2006.] were the first to elevate Canadian Literature to the world stage. During the post-war decades only a handful of books of any literary merit were published each year in Canada, and Canadian literature was viewed as an appendage to British and American writing.

Much of what was produced dealt with extremely typical Canadiana such as the outdoors and animals, or events in Canadian history. A reaction against this tradition, poet Leonard Cohen's novel "Beautiful Losers" (1966), was labelled by one reviewer "the most revolting book ever written in Canada". [ [,,1305765,00.html "Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head?" Tim de Lisle, Guardian Online] , retrieved 11October 2006.]

Most of what Canadians read was written in the United States or Great Britain. Most of what was studied in Canadian schools and universities was also foreign.

Canadian poet Leonard Cohen is perhaps best known as a folk singer and songwriter, with an international following.

Canadian Author Farley Mowat, best know for his work "Never Cry Wolf", also author of "Lost in the Barrens" (1956), Governor General's Award-winning children's book.


There are a number of notable Canadian awards for literature:
* The Atlantic Writers Competition highlights talent across the Atlantic Provinces.
* Books in Canada First Novel Award for the best first novel of the year
* Canadian Authors Association Awards for Adult Literature | Honouring works by Canadian writers that achieve excellence without sacrificing popular appeal since 1975. []
* CBC Literary Awards
* Canada Council Molson Prize for distinguished contributions to Canada's cultural and intellectual heritage
* Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Awards for best Canadian play staged by a Canadian theatre company
* Marian Engel Award for female writers in mid-career
* Matt Cohen Prize to honour a Canadian writer for a lifetime of distinguished achievement
* Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing
* Gerald Lampert Award for the best new poet
* Giller Prize for the best Canadian novel or book of short stories in English
* Governor General's Awards for the best Canadian fiction, poetry, non-fiction, drama, children's literature (text), children's literature (illustration) and translation, in both English and French
* Griffin Poetry Prize for the best book of poetry, one award each for a Canadian poet and an international poet
* Milton Acorn Poetry Awards for an outstanding "people's poet"
* Pat Lowther Award for women's poetry
* Prix Aurora Awards for Canadian science fiction and fantasy, in English and French
* Prix Athanase-David for a Quebec writer
* Prix Gilles-Corbeil for a Quebec writer in honour of his or her lifetime body of work (presented every three years)
* Prix Trillium for the best work by a Franco-Ontarian writer
* Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for the best work of fiction
* Stephen Leacock Award For Humour
* Timothy Findley Award for male writers in mid-career
* Trillium Book Award for the best work by an Ontario writer
* W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize for a writer who has made a distinguished lifetime contribution both to Canadian literature and to mentoring new writers
* Room of One's Own Annual Award for poetry and literature
* 3-Day Novel Contest annual literary marathon, born in Canada
* Danuta Gleed Literary Award for a first collection of short fiction by a Canadian author writing in English
* Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for the best novel or collection of short stories by a resident of British Columbia
* Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for the best collection of poetry by a resident of British Columbia
* The Doug Wright Awards for graphic literature and novels

Awards For Children and Young Adult Literature:

* Young Adult Novel Prize of the Atlantic Writers Competition
* R.Ross Annett Award for Children's Literature
* Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction
* Ann Connor Brimer Award
* Governor-General's Awards for Children's Literature
* Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award for Children
* CLA Young Adult Canadian Book Award
* Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize
* Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award
* Floyd S. Chalmers Award for Theatre for Young Adults
* Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award
* Information Book of the Year
* I0DE Book Award
* Manitoba Young Reader's Choice Award
* Max and Greta Ebel Memorial Award for Children's Writing
* Norma Fleck Award for children's non-fiction
* Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award
* Vicky Metcalf Award

See also

* Canadian poetry
* Canadian science fiction
* List of Canadian writers
* Atlantic Writers Competition
* List of Canadian short story writers
* Warren Tallman (established Canadian literature studies at UBC and helped found UBC creative writing department)
* The Canadian Centenary Series
* Canada Reads
* List of fiction set in Toronto
* Canadian content


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