Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Great White North

It’s called the GREAT White North for Many Reasons . . .

Canada has been nicknamed The Great White North for the substantial blanket of snow that covers the ground for half the year, but as an aspiring writer, I see its greatness in the talent of our past and present literary community:

Lucy Maud Montgomery
Born in 1874, Montgomery is best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. The charming series was an immediate, international success featuring the beloved character, Anne Shirley, who goes to live with an elderly rural couple who are expecting a boy orphan, but are mistakenly sent a girl, yet decided to keep her.

Maza de la Roche
Mazo de la Roche (1879 – 1961) was born in Newmarket, Ontario (very close to where I presently live). Her third novel, Jalna, was submitted to the American magazine Atlantic Monthly in 1927, winning a $10,000 award, a small fortune in the 20’s! Its publication brought de la Roche fame and fortune at the age of 48 (yes, there’s still hope for me at 49!). The series tells the story of one hundred years of the Whiteoak family covering from 1854 to 1954. The novels were not written in sequential order, however, and each can be read as an independent story. The Jalna series has sold more than eleven million copies in 193 English and 92 foreign editions.

Margaret Laurence
Margaret Laurence (1926-1987) is one of Canada’s most loved and respected writers. She is the author of sixteen books, including a travel memoir, five novels and two collections of short stories, a translation of Somali tales and poems, a collection of essays and an important study of Nigerian dramatists. Laurence was born in 1926 and lived in Lakefield, Ontario (the northern town where Prince Andrew went to college). In perhaps her best-know work, The Stone Angel, Laurence tells the story of a 90-year old woman struggling to come to grips with a life of intransigence and loss. "Pride was my wilderness, the demon that led me there was fear." Although Stone Angel has been banned from some schools, it is studied at the grade 12 university level in other schools.

The Diviners, published in 1974 was Laurence’s final novel. Although on the surface, The Diviners depicts very different roles for women than her earlier novels do, there is a recurring theme of the female perspective on contemporary life. Margaret Laurence wrote fifteen books and a memoir that was published posthumously. She as also well-known for her work as a peace activist and as one of the founders of the Writers’ Union of Canada. Her encouragement of fellow writers is legendary.

Mordecai Richler
Mordecai Richler (1931 – 2001) was a Canadian author, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and essayist. He was born in Montreal, Quebec. Richler wrote movingly of his working class neighbourhood and its people, chronicling the hardships and disabilities they faced as a Jewish minority:
“To a middle-class stranger, it is true, one street would have seemed as squalid as the next. On each corner a cigar store, a grocery, and a fruit man. Outside staircases everywhere. Winding ones, wooden ones, rusty and risky ones. Here a prized lot of grass splendidly barbered, there a spitefully weedy patch. An endless repetition of precious peeling balconies and waste lots making the occasional gap here and there.”
His best known works are The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and the Jacob Two-Two children's stories. A leading critic called him "the great shining star of his Canadian literary generation.”

Margaret Atwood

Ms. Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in 1939 and began writing at the age of six. She graduated from Harvard’s Radcliffe College in 1962 and went on to write The Edible Woman, The Handmaiden’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Atwood writes Dystopian Science Fiction, but prefers to label it “Speculative Fiction”, and "Adventure Romance" because it does not deal with “things that have not been invented yet” and goes beyond the realism she associates with the novel form.

Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje was born 1943 in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. His style of fiction was introduced in Coming Through Slaughter and mastered in The English Patient. He creates a narrative by exploring many interconnected snapshots in minute detail.

Canada is known for many national treasures—Wayne Gretzky, Christopher Plummer, Ellen Page, Mike Myers, Niagara Falls, The Canadian Rocky Mountains, Hockey, Maple Syrup, Canadian Bacon, French Canadian Pea Soup, Butter Tarts, The Northern Lights, Canada Geese, Tim Horton’s (much-coveted coffee and donuts), Poutine (French Fries drizzled with melted cheese curds and gravy-my kids love it!), The Hudson Bay Company (which once owned 1/11th of the Earth's surface), Molson’s beer, great Health Care and Halloween costumes for kids that fit over snow suits—but, check out these great Canadian writers.

I know they won’t disappoint.

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