Last Thursday Canada celebrated its 143rd birthday.  Compared to most nations on this globe our national identity is still very, very young.

Now examine the timeline of our literary history against that of the rest of the world–the Norton Anthology of World Literature cites the first great narrative of world literature to be “Gilgamesh,” written down on clay tablets around 2000 B.C. — and we are not just in our infancy, we are essentially the newest of the newborn.  And if you think about it, for newborns we’re doing just fine:   we are more or less sitting at the equivalent of Einstein coming up with the theory of relativity when he was still at the “twinkle in his father’s eye” stage.

On Canada Day I chose to spend most of the hot and sticky daylight hours in the air conditioned comfort of my apartment pondering weighty questions (Okay, so I got involved in one of those interminable internet rambles where one click leads to another which leads to another . . .) like, “I wonder if there is a comprehensive list somewhere of all the published Canadian writers since Confederation?”  Well, there is. In fact there are. Several.  Check them out for yourself.

There are also (this is what happens when you just keep clicking away at all those lovely little blue links) several notable articles out there begging the question, “What is Canadian literature?”  The crux of this issue seems to be rooted in the obvious reality that Canada as a nation, first and foremost, is just plain huge geographically.  Add to this the fact that we are (for the most part) a nation of immigrants and  have chosen to embrace the ideal of multiculturalism, and that leaves the scholars with a great deal of serious head scratching to do.

You see, if they try to break down Canadian writing by region that strategy only works so far.  Eventually they have to deal with the reality of the author born in Halifax, raised in Winnipeg and currently residing in Tuktoyaktuk, who writes passionate prose/poetry/plays/cookbooks from the cultural perspective of his/her Thai/Russian/Somali (insert cultural heritage of your choice here) roots.  Makes us a very interesting place to be doesn’t it?

Another common theme in the discussion of Canadian literature is that we, as a literary entity, still haven’t “found” ourselves.  It is remarked that we have an adolescent inclination to mask serious subject matter in humour (remember biology classes in the 7th grade?), to involve ourselves in deep and heart-felt searches for identity, and to engage in an ingenuous veneration of the underdog.

But then again, we are also valued on the world literary stage for our perspectives on dealing with the complexities of multiculturalism, our seeming reverence for and acceptance of the often brutal realities of nature, and our ability to view the world through the somewhat jaundiced, but highly polished, lenses of  self-deprecation and satire.  Not bad when you consider we still haven’t really found our way out of our swaddling clothes.

So we are young. And being young we are bubbling with ideas and we are overflowing with ideals. We are eager to prove ourselves to the world, wanting all the while to appear completely unfazed at finding ourselves in a room full of grownups wearing ties.  We are growing.  Every day we are soaking in the information offered by the world around us; garnering wisdom (hopefully) from the lessons of the past.  And we are writing.  Just imagine what awaits us on the day we let go and begin walking by ourselves.

Mela Foxallen

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  1. Debbie Strange says:

    Hi Mela:

    wonderful piece!