Canadians in certain quarters have a maniacal, proprietary grip on the concept of CanLit, what it should be, what it isn’t, and who has the right to a place in the world of those who know how to execute it: Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Margaret Laurence, for example. It’s serious business, so integral to the preservation of the Canadian identity that, sometimes, some of us roll our eyes.
Now, Adam Brady, a young web developer, brilliantly skewers the genre with the CanLit Generator, a hilarious site that spews out imagined storylines for CanLit novels and lets the public submit riffs on how the national identity could be re-written. It’s a welcome exercise for those who think CanLit is just too earnest.
New authors don’t always fit the genre, which is why Brady’s take is so refreshing. This post by emerging writer Anna Maxymiw explores the conundrum created by CanLit typecasting.
it seems like my own writing is not canadian enough for many canadian literary magazines (too rude, too sexual, too full of bad words, not focused enough on the sound of waves or the smell of trees), and too canadian for the u.s. literary magazines (too polite, too north-of-the-border, too “what the hell is ontario?”) – What is CanLit?
The site is sharply in tune with the subtleties of CanLit. I am well acquainted with a sub-genre called “Southern Ontario Gothic,” which permeates the generator’s story lines. It’s a style ascribed to writers like Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Munro, who wrote near the small town of Clinton, a 10-minute drive from the village where I spent summers on Lake Huron.
Fed by murky stories about isolation and redemption, the genre does represent the toughly endured realities of this part of Canada. Away, Jane Urquhart’s dark saga of settlers on Lake Ontario, and Bonnie Burnard’s A Good House, about a deeply imperfect family on Lake Huron, come to mind.
The absurdity of some CanLit conventions also gets lanced, including cultural icons, the myths of the North, the geography of the country and even (peripherally) Ottawa’s long-standing practice of handing out grants to eligible authors. Canadian writer and author Doug Coupland facetiously characterizes the genre this way:
“CanLit is when the Canadian government pays you money to write about life in small towns and/or the immigration experience.” –New York Times
And it also skewers the proclivity of the CanLit world to protect itself from incursion:
“When the 2013 Governor-General Literary Award for Fiction was announced, there was an immediate backlash against the choice: should The Luminaries, a book set in New Zealand written by a woman born in Canada, but raised and is still living in New Zealand, be eligible for one of our top literary awards? –Canadian Literature Quarterly
Ultimately, the CanLit generator celebrates the Canadian heritage of poking fun at ourselves. For those of us who love the writing, but balk at the strictures of the genre, it’s a brilliant place to celebrate big laughs.
CanLit Books List, here.
A National Post column examining CanLit issues, here.