But you may not know the women who published poems and prose alongside their more recognized male counterparts.
Prairie writers Miriam Waddington, Adele Wiseman and Fredelle Bruser Maynard and Torontonians Helen Weinzweig and Shirley Faessler were among the pioneering figures who produced daring work out of their own experiences as women.
A prolific writer, she published 14 volumes of verse during her lifetime. Waddington’s poetry is deceptively accessible: it is personal but never private, emotional but not confessional, thoughtful but never cerebral.
Waddington wrote layered verse always from a gendered position, first as a social worker who saw aspects of herself in her most vulnerable clients. She detailed intoxicating romance and mature love, the pleasures of marriage and motherhood, the experience of raising two sons to adulthood and the ineffable pain of divorce.
As she moved through middle age, Waddington wrote of her ancestral past, the death of her ex-husband and loss of close friends, and later of growing old. Her poems of a Winnipeg childhood, modern urban life in Montréal and Toronto, visits to London, Berlin, Jerusalem and Moscow, of art and writing, probed irreconcilable differences of place and identity, politics and work.
She is best known for her two novels that mine the Prairie landscape and the Jewish culture that was her inheritance. Both works are set in insular communities whose practices reflect traditional Judaism.
The Sacrifice, published when Wiseman was 28 in 1956, received the Governor General’s Literary Award that year. This tragic novel revealed her interest in characters who challenge normative behaviour and affirmed Wiseman’s belief in community. It centres on the murder of a woman by its devout protagonist Abraham who misinterprets her flirtation.
Crackpot is the epic story of Hoda, an obese Jewish sex worker, who services the boys and men of her North End community. Hoda is garrulous and outspoken, determined and resilient. Tested by fate and the son she must give up at birth, she remains one of literature’s most memorable characters — for playwrights, poets and readers alike.
Born in Foam Lake, Sask., Maynard (1922-89) spent her youth in Winnipeg. Her two memoirs, written with honesty and poignancy, foreground her experience as a Jewish woman.
Raisins and Almonds (1972) evokes Maynard’s childhood and family life on the Prairies, where she recalls growing up feeling “Jewish and alien” in rural Western towns during the 1920s and 1930s.
She continues her story in The Tree of Life (1988) with an emphasis on relationships with her mother and sister, her artist husband Max Maynard — who was an alcoholic for the duration of their 25-year marriage — and her writer daughters Ronaand Joyce. A brilliant student who earned a PhD in English from Radcliffe College in 1947, Maynard also exposes the gender norms of the time that prevented her from pursuing an academic career.
Born in Radom, Poland, Weinzweig (1915-2010) immigrated to Canada at the age of nine with her divorced mother. Her novels and stories are dark, spare narratives that critique the institution of marriage.
The experimental novel Passing Ceremony (1973) blends surreal and gothic styles to present a sombre picture of the ritual of marriage. It communicates Weinzweig’s belief in the paradox that tragedy always lurks beneath the seemingly innocuous conventions of everyday life.
Basic Black with Pearls (1980), which won the Toronto Book Award, is a “feminist classic.” Written as a highly subjective interior monologue, it too examines the vacuousness of traditional marriage. An ingenious work of puzzles, the novel’s clever use of transformations and masks sharpens the interplay of reality and illusion at its heart.
Weinzweig’s fragmented, discontinuous stories propel readers toward a heightened awareness of the contradictions of contemporary life.
Faessler (1921-97) was born and raised in Toronto’s Kensington Market when it was a Jewish enclave, and used this setting for her fiction.
The novel Everything in the Window (1979) describes the marriage of Sophie Glicksman and Billy James, a convert to Judaism. Set during the 1940s, it draws readers into a vivid world of contrasting sensibilities: the Jewish openness in Sophie’s family versus James’s gentile politeness.
On the back cover of A Basket of Apples (1988), Alice Munro proclaims Faessler “a witty and uncompromising writer.” Munro admired the nine stories in the collection, six of which return to the Glicksman family.
In a 2014 edition of the six Glicksman stories, linked via chronology and a consistent first-person female narrator, a cast of lively characters of the 1930s and 1940s speak to us across time through Yiddish-inflected English.
Readers will enjoy the rich diversity of Canadian Jewish experience reflected in the poetry of Waddington and the prose of Wiseman, Maynard, Weinzweig and Faessler. The work of these authors remain evocative and relevant — perfect for long winter evenings.
The Outsiders is thought to be one of the first novels written specifically for young adults. The coming of age novel explores the class divide between the rival Greasers and Socs gangs in the American South in the mid-1960s.
The book’s challenging and emotive representations of inequality, violence, crises of conscience, and the powerful love of family and friends, make it an enduring standout for young readers. The first-person narration constructs intimacy between the reader and our protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, as he approaches an increasingly uncertain future.
Hinton started the book at 15, finished it at 16, and it was published when she was 18. It is said she wrote the book because it was the sort of book she herself wanted to read.
In a year when many young people have experienced isolation and separation, Ponyboy’s wisdoms should resonate powerfully:
It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.
Crazy Brave recalls her early life from birth to her early 20s. The story is abstract and non-linear in structure, making the memoir unpredictable, which destabilises the reader’s experience.
Harjo’s memoir is confronting and, at times, graphic. But her spiritual connections, and trust of her own “knowing” (instinct, or inner vision) will inspire readers keen to escape problematic right or wrong, or black and white perceptions of experience. As Harjo astutely observes:
In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol.
28-year-old Tu’s debut novel presents 22-year-old violinist child prodigy Jena Chung. We follow Jena’s sense of alienation and detachment as she attempts to find meaning in the world.
Lonely Girl is not a fun read, but it is a timely one. We need to see more Asian-Australia women’s voices in literature because of the important provocations they make about race and misogyny in Australia. Tu wanted this novel to be a conversation starter and it certainly is.
Tu’s is a powerful intervention young readers will appreciate. It is a book about making bad choices while feeling so much pressure to be “good”:
I throw myself into things, expecting always to get what I want. And I always get what I want. Now it feels like I’ve failed all over again. Only this time there’s no motivation behind it. I’ve just failed myself, and it hurts in a strange, unfamiliar way. The wound is deeper than anything I’ve ever felt.
This novel contains graphic representations of sex. It is recommended for readers 17 and over.
This is a wonderfully compassionate book about living with anxiety caused by our 20-something protagonist Caitlin’s fear of death. The Morbids explores the value of friendship and romance amid youthful fears and phobias.
Ramsey’s debut novel is a difficult read. The style of the novel (fragmented, sometimes repetitive language) attempts to bring the reader closer to the experience of mental illness. But the characterisations are warm and the moral is ultimately hopeful.
It’s a book about therapy and letting people in when it is the last thing you feel like you can do, because “Sometimes you need to give up on death … to have the time of your life”.
Love, Creekwood is a short epistolary romance novella (the story is narrated via the characters’ emails to each other). It is “part 3.5” in the series and functions as an epilogue.
Love, Creekwood follows the characters to college and we follow the progression of two same-sex relationships. The book explores the challenges of being too close and too far away from a partner. It explores the mental health struggles often triggered by loneliness and fear.
Love, Creekwood is a light-hearted but genuine representation of what the first year of university can feel like.
As Simon explains:
When we say we want to freeze time, what we mean is that we want to control our memories. We want to choose which moments we’ll keep forever. We want to guarantee the best ones won’t slip away from us somehow. So when something beautiful happens, there’s this impulse to press pause and save the game. We want to make sure we can find our way back to that moment.
Albertalli is donating all proceeds from the sale of this novella to The Trevor Project, an organisation committed to crisis and suicide prevention for LGBTQIA youth.