When a major-league hockey franchise returned to Winnipeg last winter, Manitobans were euphoric. MTS Centre sold out for the whole season, and merchandise bearing the team logo flew off the shelves. The saga of how the original Jets, created in 1972, left for Phoenix in 1996, and how True North purchased the Altanta Flames and moved them here as the born-again Jets, is chronicled in a book by Randy Turner called Back in the Bigs.
Well, Manitoba writing has always been in the Bigs. Way back in the early 1900s, sales of three novels by Manitoba's Ralph Connor totalled over 5 million copies. Ernest Thompson Seton (in the 1890s), Douglas Durkin (in the 1920s) and Gabrielle Roy (in the 1940s) achieved international reputations. As did Paul Hiebert, whose Sarah Binks ranks as one of the funniest spoof biographies anywhere.
How about Margaret Laurence, whose 1964 book The Stone Angel was chosen by librarians as best Canadian novel of the twentieth century? Or Carol Shields, whose 1993 novel The Stone Diaries won the prestigious American award, the Pulitzer? Or David Bergen, who won Canada's top fiction prize, the Scotiabank Giller, in 2005 with his The Time in Between; or Miriam Toews, whose 2004 novel A Complicated Kindness won the Governor General's Award and sold in the hundreds of thousands?
If you're most impressed by mega-deals, there's the one Susie Moloney got from Hollywood for rights to A Dry Spell, or the one Andrew Davidson signed with a New York publisher for The Gargoyle.
I was a huge fan of the old Jets, attending every game in my Ulf Nilsson or Teemu Selanne shirt. I'm glad we have an NHL team again, but I can get just as excited about Manitoba books - maybe more so. There's so much variety in Manitoba writing! Realism. Fantasy. Mystery. Suspense. Comedy. And it's way less expensive than a seat at a professional sports event. And why would we buy and read American stuff when we have so much homegrown talent?