Saturday, October 20, 2007

Young writer despairs of the tyranny of CanLit

[This post has been updated]It's a bit off topic but there's a remarkable personal essay in Saturday's Toronto Star by a young writer who is mad as hell. The reason? Stephen Marche is 31 and he maintains that the CanLit environment in Canada is heavily biased in favour of "boomer self-congratulation".

Marche spent a couple of years in Brooklyn, where he said the writing community was youthful, or wished to be seen as youthful. He came to Toronto and found the exact opposite, with prizes like the Giller and establishment regard reserved for the (at least metaphorical) greybeards.

He angrily dissects what he says are the three allowable themes of Canadian literature, themes which he says younger, but unrecognized, writers don't follow.

Setting is everything in Canadian fiction. Plots don't matter much. There are only a few plots anyway: recovering from historical or familial trauma through the healing power of whatever (most common); uncovering historical or family secrets and thereby achieving redemption (close second); coming of age (distant third place).

The characters are mostly the same: The only thing that changes is the location of the massacred grandmother, what kind of booze the alcoholic father drinks himself into fits with, what particular creed is being revealed, in deft and daring ways, as both beautifully transcendent and oppressive.

He asks whether CanLit was only one generation long, with a boomer stranglehold even as the name writers are now dead or dying (he says Margaret Atwood "has entered a Shavian twilight, where every book she produces takes away from her legacy.") the message for young writers is that if they want success, they will have to find it elsewhere.

[Update] Marche gots some support in a letter from a 61-year-old poet who wrote a letter to the editor. Rick Patrick of Madoc, Ontario says:

Anyone who knows anything about publishing in Canada knows about "the loop." Either you're in it or you're not. Many who aren't in are trying to get in. Those in a fourth group, to which I belong, are too angry to bother. We are tired of seeing the same old loopsters getting all the glory and money.

Do Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje need either more recognition or more cash? I greatly admire the work of both writers, but what Atwood said is true: If she wrote a phone book, they would publish it. Of course they would, and some twit would give it a prize.


Blogger Philip Moscovitch said...

Blah, blah blah. Isn't it a literary staple that young writers slam their elders, get some publicity, then eventually turn into elders ready to be slammed themselves?

10:15 am  
Blogger Matthew said...

"There are young writers in Canada, lots of them, but they tend to be Brooklynish."

That's a pretty silly statement. I find that young writers in Canada tend to be young writers in Canadaish.

Anyhow, Heather O'Neil won this year's Canada Reads -- a CBC prize -- this year. Which part of that implies an "institution for boomer self-congratulation"?

4:02 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, there's a pretty glaring error. Heather O'Neill's book is 'Lullabies for Little Criminals', not 'Lullabies for Little Children'.


9:43 am  

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