The world needs more Canada. Support our homegrown authors by checking out these remarkable Canadian reads.
We’re nearing the end of summer….which means it’s time to do quintessentially Canadian things like drive up to the cottage, take a boat out on a lake and curl up by a campfire. And why not grab some great Canadian reads for your last lazy hazy days of August? We’re keeping the Canada 150 celebrations going by reading a selection of CanLit! I’ll be discussing Rupi Kaur, an Indian-Canadian woman from Toronto, and Will Ferguson, an Alberta-bred Scot, for a broad scope of modern Canadian writing.
I first came across Rupi Kaur in a CBC article on so-called “Instagram poets” (which I can’t find a link to—but here’s a more recent one). The term can be derisive or positive, I guess, depending on your stance on social media. As an unashamedly avid Instagram user, and lover of poetry, this article falling into my lap felt fortuitous. Against all expectations, poetry—often seen as old fashioned and uncool—has been given a new life through social media. To me, “Instagram poetry” is just the logical evolution of traditional poetry: artists reaching out to a massive, captive audience via short, easily-consumable snippets. No matter the generation, people are always looking for something to relate to. And now, you can find it during your daily (hourly?) scroll through your Instagram feed, in between photos of ice cream and puppies.
When I started following Rupi Kaur on Instagram, I thought she was just a locally-known writer from Brampton, the kind of person you might have grown up with. Turns out she is that, but also an internationally acclaimed superstar (as poets go). Milk and Honey is her first compilation, published in 2015 and already published in 25 languages. Her poems cover a range of topics, mostly focusing on hurt and healing. Some are as short as a few words, and can function as personal reminders or inspiration: “do not look for healing / at the feet of those / who broke you”. Often accompanied by simple line drawings (drawn by Kaur herself), the poems are earnest, sometimes yearning, but never cheesy.
Kaur herself has an ethereal, feminine vibe that informs the tone of her poetry; she is as Instagram-worthy as her writing. She also uses social media to celebrate her heritage, often posting old photos of her childhood, both in Canada and in India. As the years go on, I think this is more and more what Canadian literature will look like: the voices of immigrants and children of immigrants, their experiences as both Canadian and “other”. The emphasis on diversity—now more prominent than ever—is giving a fairer chance to writers of all backgrounds, who may not have been taken as seriously some years ago. The Canada Reads selections and panels from the past few years are a good example of this.
Which brings me to another book on our CanLit list: Canadian Pie. Will Ferguson is another kind of Canadian writer: born in a former fur trading post in Alberta to Scottish and Irish/Norwegian parents, he’s what a lot of people think of when they think of a Canadian. But Ferguson’s experience isn’t limited to rural Alberta. Since his teen years, he’s been crossing the country, amassing stories and versions of Canada most Canadians might not know. Canadian Pie is a collection of these stories and observations, and they’re full of historical information that you would never learn in school. Not because it’s scandalous, but because the pieces of history are so small in such a huge country that they just don’t make the cut. Did you know that P.E.I was almost feudal, with landowners winning plots of land from a lottery, and was only strong-armed into joining Confederation after basically bankrupting itself? Ferguson gathers all of these lesser known facts to create an image of Canada as varied as it is large. There’s P.E.I., beautiful but exclusionary. There’s Old Quebec, which Ferguson deems more romantic than Paris. There’s Calgary, which apparently is not full of cowboys (except during the Stampede), and is in fact one of the greener cities in Canada, energy wise. Ferguson has a knack for finding the quirks of each place he visits, and gets insiders’s perspectives as well.
Do you have a favourite Canadian author? Do you like reading books about Canada, or do you prefer to read about other cultures? Do you think the concept of “Canadian literature” has changed over time? Let us know in the comments below!