what is canlit?

CanLit (short for Canadian literature) is a contentious concept. What defines Canadian literature as “Canadian”? After all, Canada is a pretty diverse place, with two official languages, any number of ethnic minorities, not to mention Native populations, a huge geographic area, and any number of Canadian citizens living abroad. The definition of Canadian literature was a bone of contention in the last episode of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2007 when panelist Denise Bombardier said that, for her at least, Canadian literature has be about Canada directly in order for it to be Canadian.

While I certainly wouldn’t want to pick a fight with such an illustrious journalist as Bombardier, I do have to disagree with her statement. Canadian literature, for me, is far more expansive than being simply “about Canada,” whether directly or indirectly. After all, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of the Flood isn’t really about Canada; it’s a speculative fiction novel set in a not-to-distant future and is all about the environmental impact of man and the complexities of gender relationships. This book is undeniably Canadian, even though it isn’t set in Toronto or Halifax or Montreal. It is Canadian because its author is Canadian, and because it has a cultural impact on Canadians. That is the definition of a Canadian novel, and of Canadian literature in general: it has to be written by a Canadian author (that is, an author who defines him- or herself as Canadian, though they do not have to be living in Canada) and it has to have a cultural impact on Canadians (that is, it has to be read by Canadians).

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