According to an article published in the January 9th issue of The National Post, 50% of Canadians authors couldn’t name a single Canadian author, either living or dead.
“Whose fault is this?” asks the article’s author, Philip Marchand. “Canadian authors, for not creating more world-shaking masterpieces, or Canadians in general, for being such ignorant philistines? Would it help if federal and provincial governments gave more money to publishers, literary journals, writers’ festivals and other instruments for promoting authors? Or is our glory hopelessly dim?”
Marchand goes on to say that some critics think that authors, in general, aren’t such a big deal anymore, anyway.
“For some decades now, in English departments across the continent, many academics under the influence of French thinkers such as Michel Foucault (“What Is an Author?”) and Roland Barthes (“The Death of the Author”) have downgraded the status of the author. He or she is now a “scriptor,” a verbal functionary, more the product of his or her “text” than vice versa.”
Marchand wonders how these academics create their core reading lists, calling them a “mixed bag…[where] works are tossed in to satisfy the demands of ethnic diversity, to demonstrate how elastic the definition of literature can be, to accommodate individual hobby horses.
Marchand goes on to lament that it is “pointless to yearn for greater public recognition of our own authors if we don’t have the sense that authors can have permanent importance in the life of a nation or a culture. Teachers should help nurture that sense, but the spirit of the age militates against it. And so we witness in our own case the giants of Canadian literature in one generation fading away as other generations succeed. Whatever happened to the reputations of Charles G. D. Roberts and Ernest Thompson Seton, world-renowned Canadian writers in the early part of the 20th century? Whatever happened to the reputation of Morley Callaghan, who was once every bit as much an icon of Canadian literature as Margaret Atwood? For a while he practically owned The New Yorker, in the manner of Alice Munro. In 1965 Edmund Wilson – at that time the most prestigious literary critic in the English-speaking world – compared him to Chekhov and Turgenev. Yet today he is rarely taught in Canadian literature courses, and his works seldom opened. Are we so sure what happened to Callaghan won’t happen to Atwood? (For the record, I do think Atwood is durable, but the question remains a haunting one.)”
And if Can Lit courses can’t cement the names of Canadian authors into the collective psyche of the reading public, shouldn’t the Giller Prize be able to?
“Certainly many of the Giller Prize winners are fine writers. I’ve always been impressed by the evocative and deeply empathetic writing of Manitoba-based David Bergen, for example, and I highly praised his novel The Time In Between, which won the 2005 Giller Prize. Shortly after, a taxi driver told me he started to read the novel because of all the favourable publicity, but he couldn’t stand it. I forget the exact grounds of his dislike, but I also remember that I sympathized with him. For all his literary virtues, Bergen seems to have steeled himself, in the manner of the Mennonite Brethren he grew up with, against sinful literary pleasures such as narrative suspense and touches of melodrama that a British counterpart like Ian McEwan has no scruples employing,” says Marchand.
“My own literary education was saturated with the austere modernism of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and yet I can’t condemn the Common Reader in this country for feeling that much literary Canadian fiction is an emotionally thin and bitter brew. This applies not just to writers with mannered styles but to highly readable authors such as David Gilmour and Paul Quarrington. Our authors seem to lack a popular touch – in part because we live in a grant-driven rather than reader-driven literary culture. ”
“Of course, if we want to up that percentage of Canadians who can name a Canadian author from 53% to something approaching 100%, we can always hope for a Canadian J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. But those writers are freaks of nature, and not to be counted on. At a time when most people’s primary source of entertainment is from media other than books, we may be lucky that 53% of the country can still name a Canadian author. Our best course is to ignore these polls and seek out and reward the best Canadian writing we can find. Name recognition will take care of itself,” he concludes.
So here’s the question: Tell me about your favourite Canadian author and or book.