Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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There is a lot of talk about shovels in the current popular culture. Faced with dig in and save this and save that, we are making choices. The one that profoundly affects our culture is the choice readers make when they make decisions at their bookstores.

Assuming they have already passed the florid displays of American titles, they are now confronted by BOOKS TURNED OUT. We all know that publishers pay for these privileges, big publishers, some of them owned by former Nazis and others of that ilk.


We are all conditioned to buy American. That is the sound of money.

But what about us? Why was I disappointed when I enrolled for a Restoration drama course at university and, because it was full, got stuck in Canadian (groan) Literature?

Q. Why was that Canlit course the best class I ever took?

A. Because we have a fabulous literature and a case of colonial low self-esteem. We were a political colony and now we are an economic colony.

Would it horrify you to know I took that course forty years ago and the situation remains unchanged. Even though Canadian writers earn international recognition, we are still filled with self-loathing, an image reinforced at the box office.

Marc Cote addressed the problem in a recent article in the Globe and Mail, and I have saved a bit (see below) for you.

He rightly blames our educational system. Curricula developed by teachers fed negative perceptions about Canadian culture prolong our incarceration in the fridges of Siberia.

How are we going to turn this around? On the initiative of right-minded business people, I have recently read in the lingerie department of the Bay and at Victoria Gin. Bravo people. We need Canadian poets in the marketplace. We need Canadian novelists on the radio. We need Canadian books in the nursery and in classrooms.

WE NEED OUR F______titles turned out in bookstores.

Should we picket these people, refuse to buy unless there is Canadian content?

As Paris Hilton was taught to say about attention, "I deserve it!" We need to put the Paris in Ottawa, Toronto, Sackville, Edmonton, and Victoria.

Please read what Marc had to say and post your responses.

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO FOR CANLIT? Sharpen that shovel. Get out and dig!

MARC COTE WROTE, an excerpt:

The obstacle Canadian publishers must overcome in their own markets isn’t Indigo Books, or Costco, or, or any other of the large retailers which together account for probably 75% of the retail book market. It isn’t the staggering amount of geography, the two official languages, the small population, or the millions of second-language immigrants. It’s not just these -- difficulties which, under better circumstances would be called challenges. It’s the simple fact that our English-language radios, televisions, libraries, and theatre screens and stages are filled with U.K. and U.S culture.

This cultural colonialism is so pervasive as to seem normal -- normal to the point that recently, on the CBC, a woman complained that she could not take the loss of Canadian symbols from the schools anymore. Her immediate objection was to a New Brunswick school no longer playing the national anthem every morning. “They’ve taken everything away from us,” she said. “First it was the pledge of allegiance.” There is no pledge of allegiance in Canada. There never was. But it has been heard and seen and read so often that she has come to think of it as her normal, her Canada.

When many Canadians read a novel, they expect the setting to be somewhere other than here: London and New York are the settings of great fiction. Not Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. Not St. John’s, Sarnia, Prince Albert, or Terrace. These cultural assumptions are symptomatic of the colonialism we all live under.

Where does this cultural colonialism begin? Where are its roots? Look no further than the schools of the country.

When the work of Edgar Allen Poe is taught in schools, students learn to read American gothic horror. Later, as adults, they have a taste for Stephen King, arguably the 20th century heir to Poe. The tastes of book buyers are shaped in the education system; we all like to read what is familiar. Any marketing director will base decisions on the formula that if X buys Y and lives in postal code Z, then X will likely buy A, B, and C. This is the basis of every marketing campaign launched in North America, if not the world, in the past thirty-plus years. In the case of the example used, X is a Canadian student, Y is Edgar Allen Poe, A, B, and C are Stephen King and company. An abandoned grand hotel in Colorado resonates with Canadian readers more than the Banff Springs Hotel.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers is the author of the novels Say My Name (Ekstasis Editions, 2000), Friday Water (Cormorant Books, 2003) and The Empress Letters (Cormorant Books, 2007). She has also published several collections of poetry, including Love in the Rainforest (Exile Editions, 1996), Heaven Cake (Sono Nis Press, 1997), The Saning (Sono Nis Press, 1999) and The Bursting Test (Guernica Editions, 2002).

Go to Linda Rogers’s Author Page