Monday October 09, 2017

Why Nick Mount wrote a book about the history of Canadian literature

Nick mount is the author of Arrival: The Story of CanLit.

Nick mount is the author of Arrival: The Story of CanLit. (N. Maxwell Lander/House of Anansi)

Listen 3:48

The Next Chapter exists because CanLit exists — right? But how did the literature of this country evolve? Nick Mount is a English professor at the University of Toronto, an award-winning critic and the former fiction editor at The Walrus. His latest book, Arrival, explores how Canadian literature went from being largely ignored to an enormous cultural phenomenon that produced authors like Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje.

Filling in the gaps

"Until about the late 1950s, early 1960s, there really wasn't such a thing as Canadian literature. There were certainly books written by Canadians and read by Canadians prior to that time, but they are dotted points of light — that's how one observer put it. Then all that changed between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s. Suddenly, there was this incredible explosion of writers, of publishers and, crucially, of readers. Nobody has told that story before. There are a lot of good biographies of some of the individual players and there are some good publishing histories too, but nothing that really tries to put the story together with the economic and social context that helped produced the boom. That's what this book is. It's an attempt to fill a hole." 

Exploring CanLit's supporting cast

"The writers that emerged from that period are names most people are still very familiar with — people like Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro. On the French Canadian side: Marie-Claire Blais, Hubert Aquin, Michelle Tremblay. On the West Coast: George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt. Alistair MacLeod on the East Coast. I'd say there are about 30 main players in the book, surrounded by a very large supporting cast of publishers, booksellers and book reviewers. That was crucial to me — to tell the story of the people on the sidelines." 

Nick Mount's comments have been edited and condensed.