What's Your Definition of "Canadian" for Canadian Literature?

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What's Your Definition of "Canadian" for Canadian Literature?

Jan 16, 2023, 2:44 pm

Personally, if an author was born in Canada (even if they have since moved like Malcolm Gladwell say) or if they have moved to Canada with the intention of making Canada their home (like Emma Donoghue for instance) then I consider the literature they produce to be Canadian literature. Usually I can rely on my Winnipeg Public Library to attach a red maple leaf to the spine of any book that fits that description but in two recent instances the maple leaf has not been attached but I consider the books to be Canadian. The book I am reading right now, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, says that Kathleen was born and raised in Saskatchewan but now makes Georgia her home. I have no idea what her citizenship is but even if she has become a US citizen I think she is still Canadian for this purpose. Then today I just picked up State of Terror and although the LT touchstone only shows Hillary Rodham Clinton as the author we all know that Louise Penny is the co-author and Louise is certainly Canadian.

Additionally, if a book is set in Canada even if the author isn't Canadian I classify it as Canadian literature.

So I'd love to know how you define "Canadian" for the purposes of classifying literature? Feel free to weigh in and disagree with me.

Editado: Jan 16, 2023, 3:59 pm

Now that you raise the question, I realize I generally forfeit the answer to whatever the publisher claims. It's easier than trying to reach consensus with the rest of the world about where to draw the line. If pressed for an answer though, I'd start by asking where the author was living at the time they were published.

Can we call Saul Bellow a Canadian author? He was born and raised in Quebec until he was nine. I'm inclined to say no.

Can we call Rohinton Mistry a Canadian author? He was born in India, but moved here in 1975 before he published. I'm inclined to say yes.

And then there are those with dual citizenship, those who published something here but moved before/after, etc. I'm mostly inclined to claim yes, if they were living in Canada when they were published. But this is where a lot of grey zone lies, because if (theoretical example) an author lived here until she was thirty, is now forty and living in UK and just published her first bestseller, I might still argue she's a Canadian author, or at least a UK/Canadian author.

I'll disagree with you about setting being a determining factor. If someone living in Croatia, who has only ever lived in Croatia, imagines and writes a story taking place in Canada, that is not Canadian literature (and that author is not a Canadian author.) "Canadian literature" should, to my mind, be a product of Canada. Maple syrup is not Canadian maple syrup unless it was produced here, no matter what Canadiana you put on the lable.

Jan 16, 2023, 4:09 pm

I have no answer for this as it is a question I ask myself all the time. Since we are such a diverse country, it's hard to nail down a definition. I was born and raised here, never living anywhere else, so it's easy to label me Canadian. But someone who moves here or is raised here and leaves can go either way.

I read If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English last year. It was nominated for the Giller Prize so I figured that the author was Canadian, but when I read the author blurb, I noticed that Noor was born in the US, raised in Dubai, studied in Toronto and now lives in Cairo. I'm assuming that she became Canadian when she studied here but since she is quite young, I can't imagine that she lived here very long. She fits the definition, but I wouldn't really consider her Canadian.

I find my library puts the maple leaf on anything with any kind of Canadian tie, no matter how tenuous the link. I've often wondered if it's something that each library system guesses at or if the publisher suggests it.

Editado: Jan 17, 2023, 8:01 pm

I tend to agree with Cecrow ... an author who has lasting ties with Canada qualifies as a Canadian author for me.

We come from such a multicultural country, it would be a shame to shun such great authors as Kim Thuy and Michael Ondaatje. Dany Laferrière is another interesting case: born in Haiti, he moved to Montreal, moved to the US, came back to Montréal; he now shares his time between Canada and France! Still, because he speaks so frankly (and delightfully) about his immigrant experience in Canada, I definitely consider him Canadian (and he does have his citizenship).

I wouldn't consider a book set in Canada as Canadian literature... but I would count it as part of my Canadian travels! An outsider's look can be very interesting too.

Jan 19, 2023, 5:06 pm

Having read all of your comments you have persuaded me that a book with a setting in Canada written by someone who doesn't have lasting ties with Canada does not qualify as Canadian literature.

I'm still not sure about books written by someone who was born in Canada but lives elsewhere. Cecrow's example of Saul Bellow is rather a conundrum; most online sources seem to classify him as an American writer and I haven't read enough of his work to know if he references Canada at all. So I am on the fence about him.

Kathleen Grissom, whom I referenced in my first post, went to grade and high school and nursing school in Saskatchewan, then worked in Montreal for a number of years before leaving Canada with her second husband to live in the US. Does that mean she has enough life experience in Canada to count as Canadian even though her books aren't set here? I would say yes.

Ausma Zehanat Khan is another author who moved to the US as an adult, having lived in Colorado for 15 years now. Her first book The Unquiet Dead was published in 2015 so while she was living in the US. But its setting is Toronto and her detectives are on the federal Community Policing Section. She is a Canadian author in my books (pun intended).

I'm sure there are other examples and I'd love to read your thoughts on them.

Jan 19, 2023, 5:42 pm

If the author is born in Canada, obviously! Even if they now live elsewhere. Any Canadian citizen. Not someone who simply set their books in Canada....authors set books on Mars, but aren't Martian...right?

I agree that anyone with long-term ties to Canada is Canadian for me. Like Nancy Huston

Jan 20, 2023, 9:15 pm

I just noticed that we made the list of "Talk of LibraryThing" discussions on the State of the Thing newsletter that came out today. Wow! I didn't realize anyone paid attention to what we discussed.

Jan 21, 2023, 6:45 am

>7 gypsysmom: Actually, because of the newsletter I came and joined the group! What an interesting discussion and it's given me lots to think about.

Jan 21, 2023, 12:30 pm

>8 hakkenbooks: Welcome. I'd love to know your thoughts on the question.

Jan 25, 2023, 4:37 pm

Yes, it's a tricky question for sure. I generally go with any author who is a Canadian citizen, or who has lived here long enough to have been influenced (how long is that? you may ask. No one knows).

>2 Cecrow: Rohiton Mistry, to me, is a Canadian author although his books are not set here. So I don't necessarily think his *books* are Canadian. Does that make sense? Maybe?

And how about John Irving. He has Canadian citizenship and a home in Toronto. But he's a US writer in my mind.

This is something I track in my reading log, and sometimes I have to throw up my hands and say "it's complicated" and label the entry with a UN flag. Sometimes there just isn't an answer. For example, a while ago I read a book by Jhumpa Lahiri. She's the child of Indian parents, born in the UK, grew up in the US and has US citizenship, but the book I read was written in Italian and it was about Italy. Labeling that as "American literature" makes no sense to me

Fev 2, 2023, 11:37 pm

>1 gypsysmom: I think I go by pretty much what you are saying. If they were born here or if they've moved here, I call it "Canadian".

Fev 3, 2023, 8:57 am

>10 Nickelini: I agree that I don't think of John Irving as Canadian. Probably because I'd read so many of his books long before he obtained Canadian citizenship in 2019.