“What is Canadian literature? What is a Canadian novel? I am not going to be so foolhardy as to attempt to define these terms; many have wandered into this wilderness—and returned, what else but bewildered if they were honest, or with simplistic or outdated notions if they were naive; this is hardly surprising—the country is changing around us even as we speak, stirring up a host of conflicting ideas and interests, and to look for an essence, a core, a central notion within that whirlwind is surely an illusion. To define this country or its literature seems like putting a finger on Zeno’s arrow: no sooner do you think you have done it than it has moved on.”
—M. G. Vassanji, "Am I a Canadian Writer?"
Here at Five Rivers Publishing, we publish Canadian voices. This means here at Five Rivers we aspire to amplify the Canadian voice. If your throat is feeling a little scratchy, and you find yourself scratching the back of your head, going “but what exactly do you mean by a Canadian voice?” here are some thoughts thrown around by our authors to help you find that voice which is definitively Canadian!
Aaron also mentions being referred to as the “51st state” is often times infuriating, and brings about Canadians sense of place in the world and our pride in our quiet, polite and fierce pride of all our achievements we’ve managed in our (relatively short) history. In a sense, Aaron regards the Canadian voice as “an attempt to have a voice” that can compete with our neighbours “10 times our population, and 100 times our global influence.”
From a personal experience, my intercultural communications class has demonstrated the very Canadian aim to be multiculturally inclusive rather than strive toward a cultural melting pot of our American counterparts.
Our multicultural nature has the beauty and fragility of a stained glass. Matt believes we have tendency “to be less strident, more inclined to seek a balance among competing philosophies.” We are less inclined to have a “common agenda.” Our heroes are do not fit perfectly with the conventionally heroic; instead we value “a more nuanced, more prone to self-doubt” individual. In turn our endings are not concrete triumphs, but an acceptance of outcomes that “are mixed and muted.”
Mike also spoke of the regional differences in the intonations of the Canadian voice. He acknowledges that coming from the west, Alberta specifically, his writing has a more “Wild West/Cowboy” tone, while he found works from Ontario have a “sense of age and political thinking, considering that is where our country really first came to life.”
Lorina Stephens, author, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing, shares her strong belief Canadians have a “distinctive voice and experience in the arts.” She highlights the geographical influence such a large country has on our voice. She asserts that the enormous country sparsely populated has an effect on our psyche, “that translates into a sense of isolation for many of Canada’s people, particularly outside the few large urban regions.” She also puts focus on the global stage, “in that we are part of the G7, but it seems the world pretty much forgets about Canada as any sort of influence. So, that factor feeds into our sense of isolation. ”
Lorina also talks about the Canadian heroic figure who deals with “the struggle of the individual, championing the underdog, outrage against injustice, ambiguity in the face of implacable forces.” Canadian authors “don’t deal with ultimate good versus evil. They deal with grey, with uncertainty, with small, ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, finding simple solutions and then slipping into the mainstream again. The heroics are low key, often unidentifiable. And that is such a very Canadian thing.”
The Canadian voice is multicultural and in flux.
The Canadian voice speaks about the grey.
The Canadian voice speaks.
Is the scratchy throat gone, or do you want to let us hear what you think defines the Canadian voice? We love to hear your comments.
Or perhaps you want your Canadian voice to be heard? If so scuttle to this page for Five Rivers Publishing submission guidelines for a turn on the mic. Submissions are welcome every February 1st to the 14th.
We’re very excited to hear from you.