So today the Globe and Mail posted a series of answers made by Canadian authors to the question: Is This Country Supportive of its Authors? You should check out the answers, especially if you're Canadian because it does fill you with a sense of pride. Also two of my most awesome friends (Lesley Livingston and Tish Cohen) were asked to contribute their thoughts, so that's just cool too - you know, the fact that I know cool people :) .
But then a few people posted in the comments section talking about how much they didn't like Canadian writing. One person said that he/she was waiting for the day "when the writers in Canada finally produced something worth reading" and another commented that "the reason many Canadians don't want to read Canadian authors is because people feel down and depressed after doing so . . ." and that "living in the cold is no excuse for depressing writing. It's as if a Cdn. writer who isn't perpetually depressed and grumpy doesn't qualify for grants. "Another said "why would anyone slog through the extreme dullness of most Canadian fiction?"
So I decided to respond to these posters. You can read my responses over at the newspaper's site but basically I just said something along the lines of "uh, I know a lot of Canadian authors, and many of them write happy upbeat stuff. Also there's more Canadian fiction out there than just this supposedly depressing lit fic, and how can you judge all us authors based on reading only a very select few?"
I then added a list of awesome Canadian authors I knew, who write in many different genres and styles. This is that list (and I apologise for it not being entirely comprehensive, it was a spur of the moment response):
Guy Gavriel Kay
Robert J Sawyer
(I should add that this list came after I asked whether a particular poster had actually read any of the authors interviewed for the article and was used to augment that list of authors - that's why you'll see a lack of say Lesley and Tish's names in the list, as well as big wigs like Margaret Atwood etc)
But I realised in answering these absurd generalisations about Canadian authors that there was another point to be made. And so I made it. In a follow up post:
"Having now responded twice to people posting in the comments section about the state of Canadian lit and what kinds of books Canadians write, I felt a need to post an actual post on what these posters represent.
You see, the idea that there is only one genre in Canadian writing (depressing lit fic) is very frustrating to me as I am very familiar with many Canadian authors who write many different genres (myself included), but I think it might be very well worth having a conversation as to WHY that's the image Canadian writing has with its own people. Why when there are Canadian authors who write every genre and style imaginable, does Canadian writing get pigeonholed as only one thing? And maybe this conversation can help answer the question of this article as to the supportive nature of Canada of its writers. Possibly this reputation suggests that Canada tends to be more supportive of a certain kind of writer, and less so of others, if people only consider Canadian authors to write one kind of thing.
I would never say that Canada doesn't support authors, and I myself have benefited from its generous support, but that isn't to say that there can't be room for improvement and, further, that maybe we should take a serious look at the nature of that support when the reputation of our writers does not accurately reflect the diversity of our writers.
For example, in a list created by one of Canada's largest national papers there was a remarkable lack of genre and children's writers. There was also a remarkable lack of ethnic diversity. Certainly not done on purpose, but interesting to note it having been done nonetheless."
And now . . . through the marvel of blogging . . . I expand on that thought . . .
The question I think isn't if Canada is supportive of writers - Canada is one of the most supportive countries of authors. In fact, we are a country where one only tends to get famous once one leaves it (ie: like with actors, musicians etc), unless one is an author. Authors are lauded in this country and can become bonafide superstars here. And I think that's wonderful.
But in a casual article for the Globe and Mail we see how the support tends to be distributed, even if it is totally by accident: a lack of children's, genre, and minority authors.
And this is reflected on a larger scale as well.
We see the work of our children's authors ignored in favour of this Canadian lit fic. A perfect example can be found this past year when the TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards - which hands out several monetary awards with the top being $25 000 - was almost completely ignored by the mainstream media in favour of the Scotiabank Giller Awards which honours literary fiction (with a larger award, $50 000 - but when you factor in the other prizes given out at the TD event, the amount spent on both genres is about equal). When it comes to the Giller awards, every year the nominees are interviewed separately in televised specials, then sometimes even in a group special, AND THEN the evening was televised itself. Oh. And both events? Happened on the same night. I can honestly tell you I have no idea why one gets all the attention and the other none. If the money wasn't the same, maybe . . . but . . . it's not even that.
Okay. I can tell you. It's because Adult Lit Fic is seen as more worthy of attention than Children' Fic.
We see genre authors time and time again seek agents outside this country because selling genre to Canadian publishers is very difficult. We see how genre fiction (SF/Fantasy) has had to create its own series of awards here in Canada because otherwise such authors with international acclaim don't get recognised.
We see minority authors constantly struggling not only to be heard, but also to be considered worth being read as simply an author first, visible minority second (and yes, while I notice the lack in the article in the paper, I do also notice a lack in my own list, something which I will work hard to remedy). And the same of course goes for sexual diversity.
Now. I'm not saying there isn't support here in Canada for all these kinds of authors, as Lesley herself said in the comments section to that article, the Forest of Reading Awards is a marvelous way to bring authors to children, and Canadian Children's Book Centre sent me on a book tour to the other side of this country, so clearly there is support for children's fiction for example.
But perception matters. Visibility matters. On a much bigger scale, seeing what is happening in countries half way around the world compels us to action far more than just hearing about it. We need to SEE children's lit and genre and minority authors. We need to see them respected and not considered a sub-section of writing, but a worthy (and not needing a qualifier) form of writing. No "this is good . . . for a [insert kid's, fantasy etc ] book".
We need "this is a good book". Full stop.
As a slight tangent to my point - we also need to stop defining Canadian literature as books set in Canada. Because even if Canadian authors set their work someplace else, they still bring their history of growing up Canadian, their unique perspective, to their writing. I consider myself a Canadian writer though and through and have only one identifiable Canadian character in my novels (so far). This doesn't mean I don't write with my Canadian upbringing informing every part of my work. Especially that whole Canadian sense of humour thing.
My point is . . . Canadian writing is seriously fantastic. And the diversity in the writing is seriously fantastic. And we need to change our reputation, not with the rest of the world, which is actually a pretty wonderful reputation. But with Canadians.
While we're at it . . . can we also change the reputation that a literary piece of fiction that might not be all happy go lucky can't still be highly entertaining and wonderful thing to read? Because I like a good literary work as much as the next person, and there is some beautiful stuff out there that shouldn't just be shoved to the side as "typical depressing Canadian lit fic".
Also . . . what's wrong with depressing Canadian lit fic? Sometimes that's exactly what you're in the mood to read.
Is all I'm saying.