Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Marking Our Territory

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Flipping through a copy of the Border Cities Star from 1923, I came across an article titled “Unique Literary Map.” The creation of George H. Locke, then Chief Librarian of Toronto, it’s described as a wall map marking the settings of Canadian books. “A study of the map shows that the great rivers, lakes and mountains of the Dominion seem to have been popular with many of the descriptive writers, but the fiction writers have flown everywhere…” There is no mention of any urban locales. Identified are romantic settings, wild and idyllic, stretching from the “Eden-like valleys of Nova Scotia” to the coastline of British Columbia and north to the rugged Yukon. This is CanLit circa 1923, and “Border tales do not appear as numerous as one would expect them to be.” Pity.

I phoned the Toronto Reference Library, and the person who helped me knew nothing about the map. I held the line and made a sandwich while she went through Locke’s papers. I was finished the pickle by the time she got back. No mention of the map in Locke’s documents. It’s probably lost.

That got me thinking about physical, more permanent markers, specifically Toronto’s historical plaques recognizing authors and poets who at one time or another called this city their home. Literary inukshuk. I located several online: Isabella Crawford; Lucy Maude Montgomery; Robertson Davies; Morley Callaghan and his sparring partner, Ernest Hemingway. All settled in Toronto, save for Hemingway who found more reasons to get out than stay. Still, I find myself wanting to walk these neighbourhoods.

There is also a virtual map-world we habitually, unconsciously sweep our cursors across. Now I’m thinking of our province’s literary landmarks as represented on the Open Book Ontario website: Birthplaces, writing places, publishers, and story settings. Authors look themselves up. But they need not wait to make their mark...

Turning this inside-out is a social media app on the horizon called Hi! In the era of the self-published and the self-proclaimed comes a device that one person has referred to as an “Instagram for writers.” The process begins with the sharing of an image coupled with a number of words. If people like the post, and wish to read/ learn more, they may respond in the prescribed fashion and, if it perpetuates, a global narrative is born. Words like ‘geography’ and ‘narrative’ are used heavily in Hi!'s manifesto. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. Maybe OBT readers have some thoughts on Hi! (I hope I'm using the exclamation mark correctly). I've signed up to give it a try and a chance at leaving my narrative mark on the world.

Weren’t the Group of Seven the Instagrammers of the early part of the last century?

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.

Michael Januska

Michael Januska is an award-winning crime fiction writer whose works include numerous short stories as well as the recent novel Riverside Drive, part of the Border City Blues series set in Windsor. His first book was Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.

Go to Michael Januska’s Author Page