The link below is to an article that takes a look at Canadian reading habits.
There is a growing body of literature — novels, memoirs, poetry, graphic novels, picture books — through which Indigenous writers are giving voice and agency to the experiences and histories of Indian residential schooling in Canada.
The ethical teaching of residential school narratives can be thought of as a relational process that requires consultation and accountability.
Rather than view residential school literature as primarily concerned with past history, I want to advocate for the importance of teaching these narratives as stories that probe our colonial present and the possibility of a more just future.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, in his 2008 apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian residential schools system, put residential schooling firmly in the past by calling it a “sad chapter in our history.” This narrative of pastness allowed Harper to swagger to the aspirational conclusion that “there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever again prevail.”
The policies of assimilation that governed the schools in the past, however, remain in operation today, although in different forms. Gitksan professor Cindy Blackstock, for example, asks of residential schools: “Did they really close or just morph into child welfare?”
And Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor Pam Palmater suggests that “the abuse did not end with the closing of the last residential school in 1996. Today, there are more Indigenous children forcibly removed from their parents and placed into foster care than at the height of the residential school era.”
Responding through story
Following the release in 2015 of 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, educators across the country — most of whom are not Indigenous — were tasked with the urgent imperative to bring the history and legacies of residential schooling into the classroom. Many teachers chose to respond through story by teaching residential school literature.
To teach residential school literature (fiction or memoir) is to bring deeply felt, personal stories of capture, imprisonment and cultural erasure into largely non-Indigenous classrooms.
In this context, it’s important to ask:
How can we teach residential school literature in culturally responsive ways?
What do we owe the survivors of residential schooling who have gifted their stories to us?
How do we bring our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits into dialogue with genocide?
In a nutshell, it’s all about relationships: between the reader and the story being told, and between the reader and the Indigenous writers and communities to which we are all accountable.
Building accountability into the practice of reading and teaching these often intensely personal and traumatic stories can be fostered through consultation and engagement with Indigenous communities.
Accountability also requires that we immerse ourselves fully in the material on its own sovereign terms and in all of its depth and complexity. We need to be ethical witnesses, and we need to ask what the stories teach us about our present.
My students created and contributed to a Facebook page, Indian Residential Schools in Canada: Literature, Art, Media over the past years. This page is an example of how to engage students in the material in meaningful ways that promote an ongoing dialogue about truth, reconciliation and colonialism in Canada.
This dialogue is critical, and key to it is that we keep thinking and reading about residential schools in the present day and for the future. These are in many ways stories of our time. It’s the guise that has changed. And without radical decolonization in this country, these are stories of our future.
‘The Marrow Thieves’
Last February, one day after the acquittal of Gerald Stanley for the murder of Colten Boushie, Métis writer and author of The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, tweeted:
“I wrote a book about Indigenous people being considered not human, being considered ‘things’ at the hands of a colonial Canada. I thought I was writing about a potential future. #justiceforcolten #themarrowthieves @canadareads.”
The Marrow Thieves is a young-adult novel set forty years into the future. In the wake of environmental disaster, Indigenous peoples are being captured and sent to residential schools. They are being hunted and killed for their bone marrow, which allows non-Indigenous people, who have all lost their ability to dream, to dream again and, thus, to imagine again.
Cree poet Billy-Ray Belcourt asks, “What is an NDN if not the ceiling of a country’s political imagination?” In The Marrow Thieves, the political ceiling is high.
The limit of the colonial imagination is the cannibalistic harvesting of Indigenous bodies to support non-Indigenous nation-state survival.
There is an inevitability to the narrative arc of the novel that suggests that it is as realistic to imagine a future of ecological devastation as it is to imagine a future of residential schools — a future where Indigenous peoples continue to be hunted down, like Colten Boushie, because they are considered somehow less than human by colonial Canada.
‘Seven Fallen Feathers’
Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers focuses on seven Indigenous young people who went missing and ultimately died in Thunder Bay, Ont.
An inquest into the seven youths’ deaths found that First Nations people in Thunder Bay “are often treated as less than worthy victims” and exposed systemic problems surrounding supports for the youth and responses to their deaths.
A civilian police review body found in December 2018 that police failed to adequately investigate the deaths of nine Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, including four youths discussed in Talaga’s book, at least in part because of racist attitudes and stereotyping.
The seven fallen feathers were all from communities in northern Ontario. Because of the refusal of the government to adequately fund on-reserve education, Indigenous young people are frequently unable to complete a high-school education in their communities. They must go south, far from their homes, to what is often a hostile and culturally unfamiliar place.
Remember that Thunder Bay is where a young white man, Brayden Bushby, stands accused of second degree murder for allegedly throwing a metal trailer hitch from a moving vehicle at an Indigenous woman, Barbara Kentner, who was simply walking by. She was hospitalized and died from her injuries about six months after being attacked.
The violent deaths of Barbara Kentner and Colten Boushie remind us that in present-day Canada, it’s threatening and even perilous for Indigenous people to walk around.
Talaga’s book reveals the many comparisons between students from remote Northern reserves boarding and attending school in Thunder Bay — far from their communities, far from their families, far from their languages and far from their cultural traditions — and the Indian residential school system.
Talaga thus draws important connections to the assimilative system that stole generations of children to obliterate any traces of their identities as self-determining and self-sustaining peoples with a wealth of languages, knowledge systems and cultural traditions.
Into the future
Dimaline’s and Talaga’s books teach us that versions of residential schooling exist not only in the present, but also in the future if Canada does not take seriously and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Memoirs and fictions about residential school experiences and legacies are thus necessary readings in neo-colonial Canada. Teaching and reading residential school literature foster richer understandings of present and future colonialisms.
To understand the colonial past is to open the door to understanding the colonial present and future. This understanding is a crucial part of the pathway to real change.
The story is all too familiar – yet it should command more attention from Canadians.
Recently, the Globe and Mail reported the Ben McNally bookstore, located on Bay Street a stone’s throw from Union Station, would close in 2020. Two days later, Rupert McNally, the founder’s son, confirmed the news on the store’s website. It had been open since 2007.
The reason for the closure is simple: the store will be replaced by an alleyway linking Bay Street to the alley behind it. This redevelopment is part of a project that the owner calls (ironically?) “The Bay Street Village.”
It is therefore a stupid example of gentrification that pits a modest shopkeeper against a greedy landowner.
The increase in the value of Toronto’s real estate is not exactly new. But we can see here an example of a paradigm that is not reassuring for the future of large cities: the profitability of businesses devoted to cultural property is hardly compatible with the overbidding in real estate.
Montréal is facing the same problem, and it affects all independent businesses. In August, the City gave the Commission on Economic and Urban Development and Housing the mandate to conduct public consultations on vacant space on commercial arteries. Several of these areas have rates ranging from 10 to 15 per cent.
A “hygienization” of urban centres
It has already been demonstrated that gentrification is largely based on a city’s ability to offer an interesting and diversified cultural life. Some, such as Richard Florida, have linked this phenomenon to the emergence of a “creative class.”
Geographer Oli Mould, in his excellent book, Against Creativity, published in 2018, attacks the very notion of creativity. He criticizes Richard Florida with virulence by brilliantly showing how “creative” gentrification can also act as a form of hygienization in urban centres that, ironically, hinders spontaneous citizen initiatives. To put it bluntly, once gentrification is completed, culture is more or less eliminated from the central districts.
We are interested in the case of the closure of the Ben McNally bookstore because it shows the consequences of real estate speculation on the vitality of a city and, ultimately, on culture on a national scale. Very quickly, after the announcement by the owners of the bookstore, many players in the Canadian publishing ecosystem expressed serious concerns.
That is because independent bookshops, Ben McNally in particular, do not belong to a large group or chain and aren’t limited to the sole function of selling books. They are truly a place of cultural mediation.
The purpose of booksellers is to introduce readers to more complex works that have received less media attention. In Kingston, Ont., the city where I live, the Novel Idea bookstore is part of the community life. It organizes meetings with local authors and federates a community of readers. In Montréal, bookstores such as Le port de tête, L’Écume des jours and Gallimard also have a clearly established cultural function.
Independent bookstores are places where demanding literature or radical essays can find readers. In short, the exact opposite of a virtual library where algorithms – certainly effective – guide readers’ tastes. There is no doubt that these algorithms favour books that are already selling well, regardless of the careful work of smaller publishers.
For a “bibliodiversity”
Why defend the independence of Canadian literature? Out of pure nationalism? Not exactly.
Rather, it is a question of how the bookstore can, in an era of advanced globalization, be a place of defence for the diversity of cultures, what some have referred to as bibliodiversity: a diversity of languages (in the case of Canada, English, French and Aboriginal literatures), but also socially equitable modes of production and dissemination. In this case, it ensures that cultural property produced with our public funds finds takers.
To put it simply, a book in Canada will sometimes be subsidized at the time of writing through creation grants, in its production through operating grants to publishers, and then sold by Amazon or, in the worst case, unsold due to a lack of suitable distribution locations. The Canadian book system provides a relatively good framework for its authors and publishers to deal with the horrors of the free market, in a spirit of cultural and economic protectionism. But in the current configuration, booksellers seem to be abandoned.
Make the less visible visible
But it is not simply a matter of defending a blurred Canadian identity. It is also a matter of making a diversity of identities visible. Think of the Racines bookstore in Montréal North, which highlights the culture and history of racialized authors. Or, the bookstore L’Euguélionne, which, by settling in the gay village in Montréal and adopting a cooperative structure, has made it its mission to offer a wide selection of literature on women and LGBPT2QIA groups.
An independent bookstore is therefore a meeting place for people from the neighbourhood but also, possibly, for affinity groups. Bookstores can be, in some contexts, sources of resistance. André Schiffrin states in L’argent et les mots – the third volume of a trilogy essential to understanding the effects of cultural globalization – that the number of New York bookstores has been divided by 10 since the post-war period.
Capitalism has its own rhythm, but also its own specific geography. Urban space is profoundly transformed by financial capitalism. Urban spaces are becoming expensive, and the closure of cultural spaces is, metaphorically and by extension, a reduction in the space for ideas and expression.
[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]
As you indulge in summer reading, consider this fact. If not for the path-breaking women in Canadian publishing, some of Canada’s best-known writers might not have made it: Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Carol Shields.
Although it’s known that women have always participated in Canadian publishing, the lasting influence they’ve had on the industry remains largely unacknowledged. It’s time we honoured Irene Clarke, Claire Pratt, Anna Porter and Bella Pomer — Canada’s own Diana Athills, the famous British editor — whose contributions count alongside those of men like Jack McClelland, a name that still dominates the history of Canadian publishing.
My research focuses on Canadian authors and their publishers, editors and literary agents. It has led to many happy hours immersed in archival collections in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, where I’ve uncovered the record of women’s labour in mainstream Canadian publishing. In making a place for themselves in the mainstream press, these women helped lead the way for the feminists who established their own imprints, such as Press Gang Publishers (1970-2002) and Sister Vision Press (1985-2000).
Who were these trailblazing figures?
Irene Clarke, publisher
Irene Clarke (1903-1986) was Canada’s first woman publisher of English-language books. In 1930, she co-founded Clarke, Irwin.
At the time, with the world economy in collapse and the country in the grip of the Depression, the decision to launch a publishing company might have seemed foolish. By the late 1940s, however, under Clarke’s leadership, Clarke, Irwin had become one of the country’s five largest educational and trade publishers.
In 1941, Clarke took another bold step and published Emily Carr’s first book, Klee Wyck, under the Oxford University Press Canada imprint. At the time, in an unusual arrangement, Clarke, Irwin shared staff and premises with Oxford.
Carr’s book of sketches, which had been rejected by other publishers, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction and helped generate new recognition for her paintings.
A close bond formed between Irene Clarke and Emily Carr, two women who broke historic ground, one as a publisher, and the other as a writer and a painter. Clarke not only launched Carr’s literary career. She went on to publish and acquire the copyright to all of Carr’s writing, which now endures alongside her more celebrated paintings.
Claire Pratt, editor
From 1956 to 1965, Claire Pratt (1921-1995) was senior editor at McClelland & Stewart, where she worked closely with individual writers.
Pratt came to know Margaret Laurence through her fiction set in Africa and recommended the novel This Side Jordan (1960) and The Tomorrow-Tamer and Other Stories (1963) for publication.
When she read the draft of The Stone Angel (1964), the first novel in Laurence’s Manawaka series, the editor was deeply moved. Pratt’s appreciation won the author’s trust and she remained a touchstone figure in Laurence’s life.
Pratt was most vivacious with the spirited poet Irving Layton. Pratt worked with Layton on four volumes issued by McClelland & Stewart, the first of which was the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959).
Layton sought Pratt’s opinion of his poetry. He tested her patience by continually revising a manuscript until the moment it was forwarded to the printers. He bartered constantly: if he were to remove one poem from a collection, might he replace it with another? He also enriched Pratt’s professional life and offered some of the most heartfelt expressions of thanks she received over the course of her career, even an ode glorifying “Saint Claire.”
Anna Porter, publisher
Following a similar path taken decades earlier by Irene Clarke, Anna Porter (born in 1943) became the first woman to head a Canadian publishing company devoted to English-language non-fiction trade books. In 1979, she co-founded Key Porter Books, and then in 1982 assumed the lead as publisher of the firm.
Today, non-fiction is a popular and steadily growing genre that appeals to a wide audience. When Porter established her company, however, she broke new ground by rejecting fiction in favour of the expanding category of non-fiction.
Porter pursued journalist Allan Fotheringham, whose Malice in Blunderland or, How the Grits Stole Christmas (1982) was Key Porter’s first best-selling title and the first of Fotheringham’s six books to be issued by the press.
The crusty Farley Mowat was one of Key Porter’s more outspoken and popular authors. Mowat and Porter shared a long and fruitful connection characterized by impassioned and vigorous debate and reconciliation.
Bella Pomer, literary agent
Bella Pomer (born in 1926) established her own literary agency in 1978. One of Canada’s first agents, she was undaunted by the prospect of entering a burgeoning field that soon was dominated by a cluster of women based in Toronto.
Pomer’s most prominent client was Carol Shields. Their agency agreement lasted 20 years, from 1982 to 2002. Pomer’s vision and tenacity helped shape Shields’s career.
When Pomer placed The Stone Diaries with Random House of Canada in 1993 — after 11 lean years of representing Shields — the response was immediate. Critics and readers alike were intrigued by the novel’s structure and captivated by its elusive protagonist, Daisy Goodwill. It was short-listed for the Booker Prize and went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Soon, Pomer was handling the countless administrative details that increased exponentially in the wake of The Stone Diaries. She orchestrated U.S., British and foreign publication of all of Shields’s books, ensuring that each edition received individual attention. She negotiated with publishers and sub-agents to secure handsome royalty advances for Shields’s subsequent books.
As a top agent, Pomer was more than a professional who shared in Shields’s triumph. She was also an attentive listener, an ally and a strong defender of Shields.
Pomer’s business approach to her many book deals was a boon to writers. With understanding and skill, she brokered better terms and royalty advances for her clients and sold their work outside of Canada. Such intervention succeeded in altering Canadian publishers’ negative perception of agents. More importantly, it helped reform dated practices that favoured publishers over authors.
Clarke, Pratt, Porter and Pomer were among the women who changed the face of Canadian publishing. Their achievements, which resonate in today’s highly charged publishing environment, deserve our attention.
[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]
The link below is to an article reporting on the current status of copyright issues in Canada.
The links below are to articles reporting on Canada’s Cundill History Prize for 2018, including the shortlist and winner. The chronology runs from top to bottom.
For more visit:
The Dawn Watch – Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff
The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 Giller Prize, with the winner announces as Esi Edugyan for Washington Black.
For more visit:
Editor’s note: What better season than winter to curl up with some interesting books? We went to ScotiaBank Giller Prize nominated novelist and University of Toronto English professor Randy Boyagoda and asked him to recommend to us five of his personal book choices from the shelves of Canadian literature.
Randy Boyagoda published his first novel, Governor of the Northern Province, in 2006, followed by Beggar’s Feast in 2011. His new novel, Original Prin, is forthcoming in 2018.
Randy surveyed his shelves and here are his five idiosyncratic choices:
Written by Brian Moore (1985)
Black Robe is historical fiction set in the 17th century Canada — meaning New France. It’s a novel involving an encounter that French Jesuit missionaries have with members of the Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois.
What I found so remarkable about the book is its potential contribution to our contemporary conversation about truth and reconciliation especially given that it was written in a very different cultural moment. I think the book is honest and bracing and has a certain spaciousness of vision that attempts to provide full and meaningful lives for every character.
Arrival: The Story of CanLit
Written by Nick Mount (2017)
Arrival (Anansi) by Nick Mount, has rightly been generating a great deal of both public and critical attention this fall.
Nick’s book is an ambitious and readable effort to tell the story of how we went from being a nation without a literature to a literature without a nation. The book explores a specific interest in what we might think of as the “boom time” of Canadian literature, from the late ‘60s through the early ‘70s.
What I found especially interesting about Nick’s book is his willingness to offer a series of evaluations, ratings even, of various Canadian novels. We live in a culture that sometimes shies away from making aesthetic and critical judgements. I think what’s great in Arrival is that Nick invites us to read these books and disagree with him.
The Great Canadian Novel
I’m trying to decide whether I disagree with Nick when he says in his book, Arrival, that The Double Hook by Sheila Watson (1959), which is a slim and complex mid-century Canadian novel, is the Great Canadian Novel.
That’s a big claim. If I were going to make the same claim, I’d assign that honour to Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler (1989).
I’ve decided to read Double Hook in the coming weeks and decide if I agree with Nick or not.
The Way of the Strangers
Written by Graeme Wood (2017)
The Way of the Strangers is a work of striking literary journalism. It recently won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. Wood is best known for his cover story in The Atlantic two years ago, on ISIS. His book is a series of first-person essays, travelogues and analyses of radical Islam.
Wood goes to various Middle Eastern states, places in the U.S., and elsewhere. There’s wide, personal contact with people in various forms of radicalization and he’s also subjected to various attempts at conversion—reading about that is also fascinating.
Wood’s care, seriousness and persuasive criticisms of radical Islam shows that understanding his subject only in political terms or as a misrepresentation of Islam does not do justice to the complex and riven reality of contemporary Islam. As an outsider who’s interested in these matters, I found the book really engaging.
A news-minded audience would find a book like this of real interest. It really does give you a sense of the inner lives of people who have committed to a radical interpretation of Islam and are trying to live that out in the world around them.
The quality of writing and reporting is excellent and the book is especially timely now for obvious reasons. I think that it will be an important historical document in global affairs thirty years from now.
Fifteen Canadian Poets x 2
Edited by Gary Geddes (1978)
My last pick involves a family tradition.
Most Sunday nights, the Boyagoda family gathers in our own library and we each read a poem. I choose my Sunday poem out of Fifteen Canadian Poets x 2 edited by Gary Geddes. It came out in 1978. The book was a very important and timely anthologizing of new Canadian poetry and also at that point, established poets. There are people in there ranging from E.J. Pratt to then emerging voices, such as Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood.
When I pick a writer out of that anthology, the writers I go for most often are poets like P.K. Page, Raymond Souster and Alden Nowlan. Here are people who write beautiful, arresting, strange and funny poetry. Reading from it is a double break: it’s a nice break, frankly, from the usual suspects, and it also introduces my American-born wife, who has a PhD in twentieth century American and Caribbean poetry, I add, and our American children, to all the wonders of Canadian literature, poetically.
The link below is to an article that looks at a Canadian Used Bookseller’s (The Monkey’s Paw) vending machine that will spit out a random used book for $2.00. The vending machine is called the Biblio-Mat.
The link below is to a sad story because some 30 tonnes of books could soon be burnt in Canada.