Canadian Writers

Canada is a young multicultural country with many influences and cultural backgrounds. Canadian literature is often divided into sub-categories: geographical, gender-orientated and period orientated. One can find anthologies of Eastern Canadian Literature, French-Canadian Literature, Canadian Women's Literature or Post-modern Canadian Literature. However there are other ways of defining Canadian Literature.

Main Features of Canadian Literature

One characteristic feature of Canadian literature is satire. Serious matters are often described with irony and a sense of humour. This satire is especially present in anti-American texts, which are not as rare as one would think. However Canadian writers do not have a superior attitude concerning other countries. Instead of an ill-placed sense of patriotism, they prefer to laugh at themselves and are not afraid to point out what is wrong in their society. The hero is commonly a weak person, always treated badly, who manages to overcome all kinds of dark destinies or problems. An oft-used theme is the dichotomy between urban and rural ways of life. The country is often idealized, while the city is portrayed as a breeding place for evil. The theme of man vs. nature is evident.

French Canadian Literature

French Canadian Literature developed in French Quebec in the 19th century. The first works were written in accordance with Catholic morality, but these works have no long-term interest in the realm of literature. In the 1930s the patterns changed: the goal was to write works with a psychological and sociological basis. Mid-century, French Canadian Literature experienced a period of expansion, influenced by universal concerns, such as the Second World War and the beginnings of industrialization in the 1950s.

Prominent Canadian Authors

There are a few Canadian authors who deserve our attention, not only for being internationally acclaimed, but also for having been awarded international prizes, such as the 'Booker Prize' and the 'Canada Governor General's Award'.

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY (1874–1942) was born in the small rural village of Clifton, on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her mother died when she was two years old, and so she grew up with her maternal grandparents. Although she had been writing for many years, she wasn't able to make a living from writing until 1898, by writing and publishing short stories and poems in American and Canadian magazines. In 1911 MONTGOMERY married a minister of the Cavendish Presbyterian Church. She died at the age of 67, on 24 April 1942, and is buried in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.

MONTGOMERY came from a family of storytellers, especially on her mother's side. At nine she wrote her first poem, called Autumn. In November 1890 MONTGOMERY wrote a poem called On Cape Leforce and sent it to the Island newspaper The Charlottetown Patriot, which published it in December 1890 when she was sixteen years old.

MONTGOMERY turned to prose and a few years later began to write Anne of Green Gables. She finished the book in October 1905, but it wasn't until 1907 that she was able to find a publisher, L.C. Page Co. in Boston. It was an immediate success and within three months it had gone through four editions. MONTGOMERY was urged by her publisher to write a sequel. Anne of Avonlea was published in the Autumn of 1909. Kilmeny of the Orchard appeared in 1910 and The Story Girl in 1911.

Just as MONTGOMERY feared, she was haunted by the character of Anne Shirley for a long time and wrote four more books about her. But then MONTGOMERY became tired of Anne and felt that she ought to create a new heroine. She did so in 1921 when she started to write Emily of New Moon. Emily Climbs followed in 1925 and Emily's Quest in 1927. In 1926 The Blue Castle was published. In 1931 she wrote a book for adults, entitled A Tangled Web. After she had written two books about Pat Gardiner (Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat), she returned to Anne with Anne of Windy Poplars in 1936 and Anne of Ingleside in 1939. MONTOGOMERY continued to write, but in 1940 she had a nervous breakdown from which she never fully recovered. She died on 24 April 1942.

Die kanadische Stadt Quebec im gleichnamigen französisch geprägten Staat.

Die kanadische Stadt Quebec im gleichnamigen französisch geprägten Staat.

MARGARET LAURENCE (1926–1987) was born as JEAN MARGARET WEMYSS at Neepawa, Manitoba, on 18 July 1926. When she was four her mother died. Her father married his wife's sister, a teacher and librarian, who encouraged her to write stories at the age of seven. When she was nine, her father died. She then moved to live with her grandfather. LAURENCE completed her secondary school education in Neepawa and obtained her first writing job as a reporter for the Neepawa Press in 1943. She worked as the assistant editor of the college newspaper before graduating in Arts in 1947. She married JACK LAURENCE, a hydraulics engineer, in September of the same year. For a period she worked as a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. Then, in 1949, they moved to England. But her husband's work took them to British Somaliland and then to Ghana. Not surprisingly, LAURENCE's earliest major literary works drew strongly on her experiences in Africa.

In 1973 LAURENCE returned to live permanently in Lakefield, Ontario. There, she was active in organizations promoting world peace, particularly in Project Ploughshares. She was awarded the Order of Canada and honorary degrees by fourteen Canadian universities. For three years she was Chancellor of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.
She died at Lakefield on 5 January 1987.

AUSTIN CLARKE (* 1934) was born in Barbados in 1934. He immigrated to Canada in 1955 to study at the University of Toronto. A few years later ClARKE published his first novels: Survivors of the Crossing (1964), The Meeting Point (1967) and a collection of short stories, Among Thistles and Thorns (1965). He taught creative writing at various American universities and was cultural attaché to the Barbadian embassy in Washington.
The Caribbean characters in The Meeting Point return in Storm of Fortune (1971) and The Bigger Light (1975), making these novels a trilogy. He returned to Canada in 1977, serving on a number of community boards and continuing to write about West Indian immigrants in Canada and their struggles against racism and economic exploitation.

CLARKE is best known for his many powerful short stories focussing on the assimilation of black people in white Canada. His second collection, When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (1971), was a great critical success and was followed by four other volumes: When Women Rule (1985), Nine Men Who Laughed (1986), In This City (1992), and There Are No Elders (1993).
In his childhood memoirs of life in Barbados, Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack (1980), CLARKE explores colonial and postcolonial conditions in the British Empire. In this context he also wrote Proud Empires (1988) and The Origin of Waves (1997).
His next book, The Question (1999), is considered one of his most accomplished novels next to The Polished Hoe (2002), his ninth novel, which won the 'Giller Prize' for fiction in that same year and the 'Regional Commonwealth Prize' for best Book in 2003.

MARGARET ATWOOD (* 1939) was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1939 and, after living in several countries around the world, she returned to Toronto, where she still lives.
ATWOOD's writing focuses on feminist issues often framed in futuristic or unreal worlds. Her fiction also points to Canada's fate and Canadian themes. Besides fiction, she has also written poetry, short stories and children's literature. Her best-known book is the Handmaid's Tale (1986), which deals with the consequences of an extreme patriarchal future for women. Novels like The Edible Woman (1969), The Blind Assassin (winner of the 'Booker Prize' (2000) and the 'Governor General's Award'), and Oryx and Crake (2003) are internationally acclaimed. Of her poetry, The Circle Games (1965) and True Stories (1981) are best known.

THOMAS KING (* 1943) was born in Sacramento, Canada, in 1943. He is of Cherokee, German and Greek descent. KING is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, Toronto. KING published his first novel, Medicine River, in 1989. With this he became an important voice in Canadian Literature. In 1992 KING published a collection of short stories (One Good Story, That One), in which he mixes humour, traditional native mythology and contemporary issues. One story plays with the idea of CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS discovering America, A Coyote Columbus Story. It was transformed into a children's book that was nominated for a 'Governor General's Award'.
He was also nominated for this award in 1993 for his second novel, Green Grass, Running Water. In 1999 he published Truth and Bright Water, which focuses on the oral tradition of the indigenous population in its form and style. During the nineties THOMAS KING also wrote a series of comic radio scripts for the Canadian Broadcast Company CBC.



Born in Sri Lanka, MICHAEL ONDAATJE (* 1943) moved to England and then to Canada in 1962. He studied at the University of Toronto and received his Masters from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
His fiction is non-linear and he is known for interconnecting small descriptions with photographic detail. The English Patient (1992), his most popular novel, was adapted for film in 1995. The plot takes place during the Second World War. ONDAATJE received the 'Booker Prize' for this novel, and was thus the first Canadian to receive the prize. Other important books from ONDAATJE are Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), In the Skin of a Lion (1987), Coming Through Slaughter (1976) and Anil's Ghost (2000).

HIROMI GOTO (* 1969) was born in Chiba-ken, Japan. When she was three years old her family emigrated to Canada. HIROMI attended the University of Calgary, and graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English and Art. Her work is clearly influenced by Japanese stories her grandmother used to tell her.
Her novel, A Chorus of Mushrooms (1994), received the 'Commonwealth Writers' Prize' for best first book in the Caribbean and Canadian Region and she was co-winner of the 'Canada-Japan Book Award'. Her short stories and poetry have been widely published in literary journals. Her second novel, The Kappa Child (2001), was nominated for the 'Sunburst Award' for Literature of the Fantastic and for the 'Commonwealth Prize' for best regional book. The Kappa Child was awarded the 'James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award'. The Water of Possibility (2001) was her first children's novel to be published. HIROMI is an active member of the literary community, a writing instructor and an editor.

Other prize-winners:

  • YANN MARTEL (* 1963), for his novel The Life of Pi ('Booker Prize', 2002),
  • ALISTAIR MACLEOD (* 1936), with No Great Mischief ('IMPAC Award', 2001),
  • and CAROL SHIELD (1935–2003), who won the 1995 'Pulitzer Prize' for Fiction for writing The Stone Diaries, and the 'Orange Prize' in 1998 for her Larry's Party.

Stand: 2010
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