Where should a dark sci-fi, horror novelist start his writing career? Canada or the US?
I cast my net a little further to find out what makes Can Lit. Even though I was satisfied that genre fiction is marketable in both industries, I still wanted to know why we even bother categorizing works as ‘Canadian Fiction’. It turns out that I am not the only one who thought about this.
I pulled up numerous features from Canadian journalists, writers, editors, book reviewers and English Lit graduates who tried to get to the bottom of it too. Of the features I read, none of the authors provide a definitive answer and for the most part agree that Can Lit is a label to facilitate teaching and categorization. Some discuss that it’s a matter of citizenship, place of birth or current location. Mike Doyle, in his feature What is Canadian Literature?, shares the idea that ‘Canadian literature, in the first instance, is good writing published by people whose lives were shaped by Canada from an early age’. He goes on to talk about writers with dual nationalities whose hearts are in numerous places around the world, which he calls ‘rootless intellectuals’.
I agree with Ken McGoogan in You, You and You, but not You who writes that ‘Canadian literature is variously bilingual, multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic, postcolonial, postmodern and even multinational’. But then again, so is the literature of a lot of nations that achieves international distribution.
Margaret Atwood caused a stir in 1972 when she provided an answer in her book Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature.
During a time when Canada was still struggling with identity, the literary elite was upset at Atwood and her colleagues for trying to steer the nation’s writing away from its English roots. Despite the controversy, Survival is still published today and was re-released in 2012. In it, she writes that while American literature is about heroes and the frontier, Canadian literature is about survival and victims. Canadians write stories about how we are victimized by the land, by untamed nature, by a state of mind or by other people. And the way we survive our victimization puts us in one of four positions: deny victimization; blame fate for victimization; accept victimization but refuse its permanency; and, be a creative non-victim (Atwood 2012, p.32-35).
This is as close as I could get to an expert talking about a common theme that identifies Canadian literature. In her prologue to the 2012 edition, Atwood says that she wouldn’t have to write this book today because this has become a non-topic. Literature as an art is international and it transcends borders – especially with the Internet and social media. However, I’m confident that if a Canadian publisher forced me to adhere to Atwood’s model, my post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror novel would qualify since everyone in my story is a victim.
Your humble writer,