Daring reads by the first generation of Canadian Jewish women writers


Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University

How do you get through the dark winter months of a pandemic? By reading exciting work by long overlooked Canadian women writers.

Consider the first generation of Canadian Jewish authors who wrote in English. Readers will know the poet Irving Layton — whose death we commemorate on Jan. 4 — as well as novelist Mordecai Richler and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, all of them Montréalers.

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.

My research on Canadian Jewish writers has led to a deep appreciation for the work of these accomplished women who deserve recognition for their contributions to the field.

Who were these women and what did they publish?

Miriam Waddington

A book cover.
‘Driving Home,’ by Miriam Waddington.
(Oxford University Press)

Winnipeg-born Waddington (1917-2004) participated in the rise of modernist Canadian poetry.

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.

At the core of Waddington’s poetry was a moral quest for knowledge and understanding. A two-volume critical edition of her collected poems was published in 2014.

Adele Wiseman

Adele Wiseman seen in profile on a book cover.
‘The Force of Vocation: The Literary Career of Adele Wiseman’
(University of Manitoba Press)

Wiseman (1928-92) was also born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End when it was largely Jewish.

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.

Today, Crackpot is universally admired, but in 1974, the year it was published, the Canadian audience had little taste for its novelistic treatment of unconventional sexuality and incest.

Fredelle Bruser Maynard

A woman on a couch.
Fredelle Bruser Maynard at her home at 25 Metcalfe St., in Cabbagetown, in Toronto, in the mid-to-late 80s.
(Courtesy of Rona Maynard)

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 Rona and 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.

Helen Weinzweig

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.

“My Mother’s Luck,” another monologue included in the short story collection A View from the Roof (1989), records the difficult life of a dynamic character based on Weinzweig’s own mother.

Weinzweig’s fragmented, discontinuous stories propel readers toward a heightened awareness of the contradictions of contemporary life.

Shirley Faessler

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.

A woman on the cover of a book.
‘A Basket of Apples.’
(Now and Then Books)

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 Conversation

Ruth Panofsky, Professor, Department of English, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Poetry Prize Shortlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the 2020 CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Poetry Prize Shortlist.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/11/canada-cbc-poetry-prize-names-its-2020-shortlist/

2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist


The links below are to articles reporting on the shortlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

For more visit:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2020/10/canada-scotiabank-giller-prize-names-its-2020-shortlist-fiction/
https://lithub.com/heres-the-shortlist-for-the-2020-scotiabank-giller-prize/
https://goodereader.com/blog/electronic-readers/these-are-the-scotia-bank-giller-prize-finalists

2020 is a year for the history books, but not without digital archives



Canada lags behind some countries with preserving public digital records.
(Flickr/BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives Canada), CC BY-NC

Ian Milligan, University of Waterloo

A seasonal change is in the air. With a minimal amount of nostalgia about the dwindling days of this unique summer, let’s turn to how we can make the most of the rest of 2020 — clearly a year for the history books.

As a historian, what concerns me is: What will our history of this unprecedented year look like in a quarter century? As the world is reshaped by COVID-19, as well as ongoing protests on a nearly unprecedented scale against racism and police brutality in the United States, Canada and around the world, it’s clear that this will be a year for future historians to make sense of.

A child today will be a historian of 2020 in the future. What sources will they turn to? How will they verify scattered memories? How will people tell the story of the tumultuous times that we’re living in today? 2020 may be a year for the history “books” but of course, the record we leave behind will be digital in manner.

But right now, Canada, unlike many other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and others, doesn’t mandate its national library to capture a comprehensive digital record of Canadian life. This needs to change so we can ensure historians of the future have all the sources possible to write a rich, equitable and robust historical record.

Social movements, virus

From the role of video and social media in sparking and documenting protests to companies and educational institutions that moved online en masse in a matter of days this past March, 2020 will be a year that will be understood through digital media.

With coronavirus isolation, digital media has been enormously important for our interactions with colleagues, friends and loved ones.

Some trends: Zoom’s daily meeting participants went from 10 million in December to 300 million in April and we “doomscroll” through social media feeds before bed. As The New York Times explained: “The virus changed the way we internet.”

Corner outside of a tall glass building.
Today, archival work means considering digital records. Here, Library and Archives Canada’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Que., seen in May 2012.
(David Knox. Library and Archives Canada, IMG_1982 /Flickr), CC BY-NC

Minute-by-minute information

Because in part the British Library is empowered to collect millions of their web pages every year through the use of “legal deposit” power, a historian in the U.K. will have a rich record to explore.

For example, what did Britons think of senior adviser Dominic Cummings’ 418-kilometre trip from London to Durham while his wife was unwell? A researcher will be able to visit the British Library (in most cases, an in-person visit is required due to legal reasons) to consult not only social media feeds of everyday researchers, but news websites, U.K. blogs and beyond.

They will be able to draw on nearly everything published on the U.K. web in 2020. Right now a researcher can already view thousands of pages — and, most importantly, these are stewarded by the British Library for future preservation.

Legal deposit

This information will be accessible to our future researcher thanks to the power of legal deposit. Legal deposit is defined by the International Federation of Library Associations as a “statutory obligation [that] requires publishers, distributors and, in some countries, printers, to freely provide copies of their publications to the national collection,” and is a power that builds the collections of national libraries including Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

What this has meant in practice is that when a book or publication is published, there has been a legal requirement to deposit the book with a national library.

What happens when a publication moves online? What about blogs? Should they have a similar responsibility to deposit their material? And, critically, does a national library have a duty to preserve this information at scale?

The British Library has, since April 2013, been “entitled to copy U.K.-published material from the internet for archiving under legal deposit.” In practice, this means that it annually archives websites of the U.K.; it also supplements this archive through curated collections such as the earlier mentioned one around global pandemics. Those tweets, blogs, health websites and so on all form part of the historical record — and once archived, there is no legal ability to retroactively delete them.

Crucially, sweeping collections of material under legal deposit means that material is being amassed that does not seem important today — but could be invaluable to a historian in years to come.

Canada should aggressively follow

The remarkably forward thinking Library and Archives of Canada Act of 2004 gives Library and Archives Canada similar powers. One section of the act, for example, gives the institution the power to take a “representative sample of the documentary material of interest to Canada that is accessible to the public without restriction through the internet or any similar medium.”

These laws, however, aren’t used to their fullest. Canada’s national library doesn’t carry out a comprehensive snapshot of the entire Canadian web domain, meaning that countless voices will be lost for future historians.

A finger pushing a digital button with documents behind it.
The notion of legal deposit could be expanded in Canada to cover a comprehensive snapshot of the entire Canadian web domain.
(Shutterstock)

This is not to paint too dire a picture. Library and Archives Canada does a great job of capturing material of interest. During COVID-19, it has selectively captured some 38 million digital assets related to COVID-19 by July 2020, which add to their robust web archives including the Government of Canada web archive, which collects and maintains a comprehensive record of federal government’s websites.

Increasingly, it’s making collections, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s collection, available online. In doing so, Library and Archives Canada is explicitly noting its collecting powers under the 2004 act, suggesting an increasing willingness to share these materials.

We should laud this great work, and use it as a launchpad for the comprehensive collection of all Canadian material.

Patchwork collecting: not enough

While Library and Archives Canada has been collecting material for COVID-19, including social media hashtags as well as media and non-media related websites, even 900 websites being regularly collected is patchwork compared to the sheer amount of information published by Canadians online every day.

To do justice to what’s happening around us, and to make sure that historians of the future can understand this moment, the institution and policy-makers need to move quickly.

We need to aim to collect the entire Canadian web domain on an ongoing basis, both during and after COVID, to enable future researchers to understand our country. This will require additional funds to Library and Archives Canada. But, at what better time?The Conversation

Ian Milligan, Associate Professor of History, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Residential school literature can teach the colonial present and imagine better futures



A detail of the book cover for ‘Seven Fallen Feathers’ by Tanya Talaga.
(House of Anansi Press/’Seven Fallen Feathers,’ book cover art by Christian Morrisseau)

Michelle Coupal, University of Regina

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.

Cindy Blackstock speaks at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2016.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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?




Read more:
Canada guilty of forging crisis in Indigenous foster care


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.




Read more:
Teaching truth and reconciliation in Canada: The perfect place to begin is right where a teacher stands


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?

Relationships

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.


Click here for more articles in our ongoing series about the TRC Calls to Action.

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,’ by Cherie Dimaline.
(DCB Books/Cormorant Books)

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.

‘Seven Fallen Feathers’ by Tanya Talaga.
(House of Anansi Press)

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 Conversation

Michelle Coupal, Canada Research Chair in Truth, Reconciliation and Indigenous Literatures and Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Regina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When capitalism kills culture: Gentrified real estate puts squeeze on indie bookstores



Independent bookstores are places where culture is collected and disseminated. The gentrification of city centres makes their existence increasingly precarious.
Kévin Langlais on Unsplash, CC BY-NC

Julien Lefort-Favreau, Queen’s University, Ontario

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.

An Amazon bookseller opened its doors last February in New York. Will only multinationals or large chains be able to have a presence in city centres in the future?
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

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. ]The Conversation

Julien Lefort-Favreau, Assistant Professor, French Studies, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The impact of women trailblazers in Canadian publishing



Many of the classic books of Canadian literature thrived because of women editors, publishers and agents. Some are profiled here: Anna Porter in the 1970s, Bella Pomer in 2015 and Claire Pratt in 1950.
Diane Pullan; Facebook; special collections

Ruth Panofsky, Ryerson University

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.

Some women worked in mainstream presses and others started independent houses like Toronto’s Sister Vision co-founded in 1985 by Makeda Silvera and Stephanie Martin – pictured here in 1997.
Alvaro Goveia/Library and Archives Canada

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.

‘Klee Wyck,’ 1941.
Oxford University Press, Toronto.

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

Claire Pratt, 1950.
Box 46, file 8, MCP fonds, Special Collections, E.J. Pratt Library, Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

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

Anna Porter in the 1970s.
Diane Pullan/Reprinted from Anna Porter and Marjorie Harris, eds., Farewell to the 70s: A Canadian Salute to a Confusing Decade, A Discovery Book (Don Mills, ON: Thomas Nelson, 1979), backflap.

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 at a party celebrating her achievements, June 2015.
Peter Rehak/Facebook

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.

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Ruth Panofsky, Professor, Department of English, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2018 Cundill History Prize


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:
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/06/canada-cundill-history-prize-2018-jurors-search-for-new-insights/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/09/canada-cundill-history-prize-announces-2018-shortlist/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/cundill-history-prize-2018-finalists-author-biographies-climate/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2018/11/cundill-history-prize-2018-winner-maya-jasanoff-praise/

The Dawn Watch – Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff