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Diving Deep into Canadian Literature: What Is It?

Post by Danielle Allison
Posted November 05, 2012 in NoveList Plus

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Popular author Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) is a Canadian author living in America. What specific elements of her writing might define it as “Canadian literature”? Likewise, Canadian author Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) lives in California, but writes stories set in Canada. Are there themes that are unique to Canadian fiction? What, exactly, makes a book “Canadian”? NoveList staffers discussed that very topic last month. We began with these basic criteria:

  • The author currently lives in Canada
  • The author says s/he is Canadian in sources such as interviews or on his or her website (even when the author currently lives elsewhere)
  • Works by an author are eligible for awards such as the Scotiabank Giller Prize that are limited to Canadian literature

book jacket

That’s actually a pretty broad definition, so we dove deeper and held a staff workshop to talk about the details. I worked with my colleague Amie Reno to plan the workshop because we both specialize in Canadian content for NoveList. We spent some time researching the history of Canada, finding articles on the history of Canadian literature, and thinking about how we at NoveList define Canadian literature.

We learned a lot from our research and compiled a set of resources for workshop attendees including these helpful articles/books:

Armed with those resources, we explored titles ranging from Kamouraska by Anne Hebert to How to be a Canadian by Will and Ian Ferguson. We discussed what makes a book Canadian and how the individual titles fit into the common themes of Canadian literature.

At the end of the day, we came away with a much deeper understanding of Canadian literature. But it’s an issue that doesn’t have a simple answer, so we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What is it you enjoy most about Canadian literature? We invite you to comment -- either look for our recent post on Facebook or submit feedback at any time.


Readers can find recommendations for more than 13,000 Canadian titles in NoveList. For assistance using NoveList to search for Canadian content, download the Help Sheet: Canadian Content in NoveList.