CBC 75th birthday- Literary

Mordecai Richler (CBC Still Photo Collection)

Mordecai Richler (CBC Still Photo Collection)


A Canadian voice for literature. On the seventh in the Rewind series celebrating the 75th birthday of the CBC, Michael Enright is joined by Eleanor Wachtel from Writers & Company. For 75 years, CBC Radio has played a major role as coach, critic and above all, appreciative consumer and sponsor of writing in Canada. Rewind brings you samples.
Clip 1 To start, a look back to 1949... Kate Aitken was the voice for housewives in postwar Canada. Her program gave advice on cooking, childcare and fashion but also offered a broader perspective on the world outside the home. In the first clip of the show, she talked to one of Canada's most widely-read authors, Farley Mowat. In 1949, he and his wife Fran discussed living above the Arctic Circle.

Clip 2 For thirty years, Robert Weaver was a trailblazer on Canada's literary scene. His radio program, "Anthology," which first went to air in 1954, was a showcase for some of this country's best writers. It was an eclectic mix of poetry, fiction and interviews. The poet Phyllis Webb was featured in our clip from 1956 as part of a cycle of poems about the seasons.

Clip 3 CBC Radio was years ahead of the recording industry when we broadcast the poet, singer and songwriter and novelist Leonard Cohen reading poetry with a little jazz piano accompaniment. From 1958, he was at Dunn's Progressive Jazz Parlour in Montreal.

Clip 4 Since 1961, the CBC has commissioned an annual series of lectures by distinguished scholars, writers, and political experts. They're called the Massey Lectures. In 1962 the Biblical scholar Northrop Frye based his talks on the story of the Tower of Babel. He called it, "The Educated Imagination". Our excerpt was from his final lecture.

Clip 5 It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of Robert Weaver's contribution to Canadian literature. For decades, he gave a hand up to some of our greatest talents by buying, broadcasting and publishing their work. Weaver was the head of CBC Radio arts programming, and many called him the "mid-wife of Canadian literature." Weaver also did some writing of his own. In this next clip, Warren Davis talks with Weaver about a 'certain' memo to senior management that was dubbed, Weaver's Manifesto. We aired a clip from "Your Two Bucks Worth" in 1970.

Clip 6 Dorothy Livesay won the Governor General's award on two occasions- and also wrote fiction and literary criticism. Our clip featured one of her love poems on the program Anthology in 1971.

Clip 7 Margaret Atwood was born a writer. As a child she called herself a 'word addict' who devoured everything from Grimm's fairy tales to Edgar Allan Poe to comic books. In 1975, Judy LaMarsh talked with Margaret Atwood about her childhood years.

Clip 8 It's no exaggeration to call Alice Munro not only one of the best short story writers in Canada, but in the world. She's won virtually every literary award, including the International Man Booker Prize.  She's been compared to Chekhov and she's stayed true to her small town roots. Our clip was part of a conversation with a rather cheeky Don Harron on Morningside in 1978.

Clip 9 It wasn't just Don Harron who interviewed Alice Munro on Morningside. She was one of Peter Gzowski's favorites. In 1994, Munro published a collection of short stories called 'Open Secrets.' We played a bit of their conversation- about the book and her thoughts on the creative process.

Clip 10 In Quebec in the 1940s, it was hockey, not books that were the obsession. And Montreal Canadiens star Maurice (Rocket) Richard was a god. Roch Carrier is a celebrated French-Canadian writer whose story The Hockey Sweater is an enchanting look at that time.

Clip 11 George Orwell isn't Canadian, but he's much admired for his essays and his sharply satirical novels, such as "1984". On January 1st 1984, CBC Radio broadcast a program all about Orwell. Producer Steve Wadhams interviewed everyone he could find who knew anything about Orwell. We aired a sample from the series with the Canadian actor Barry Morse, who as Orwell, and read from his books, essays, letters and diaries.

Clip 12 Eleanor Wachtel first interviewed Carol Shields in 1987, but she quickly became more than an interview subject- she became a friend. Over the next sixteen years, they talked frequently- as Shields won the Governor General's award, then the Orange Prize and the Pulitzer. Then Shields found out she had cancer...  In the clip we aired, Carol and Eleanor discussed her last novel as well as a piece Shields contributed to a performance called "Mortality". Eleanor asked her: 'In the end, your character says, "It's a matter of waiting things out in an improvised shelter and thinking about yourself as kindly as possible". ... Are you able to think about yourself kindly?'

Clip 13 When Mordecai Richler left Canada for Paris as a young man in 1950, he was a brooding nineteen year old with a lot to say. He returned a prolific, respected writer with a keen eye for the absurd, and the magnetism to charm or anger just about all of his contemporaries. From Montreal's Jewish ghetto to Quebec nationalism, from boring Anglophones to hypocritical politicians - the incomparable Richler commented, questioned, laughed and angered. In June 2000 Richler received an honourary Doctor of Letters from McGill University. We played a snippet of his convocation address.  

Clip 14 Writer Lawrence Hill is the child of civil rights activists. His black father and white mother moved to Canada from the U.S. the day after their wedding in 1953. He had a relatively successful writing career, but it was his breakthrough novel The Book of Negroes that really put him on the literary map- winning the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize and CBC Radio's Canada Reads in 2009. Our clip is from a conversation with Nora Young on "The Arts Tonight" in 2007. Her first question was about the main character - the slave Aminata.  

Clip 15 CBC Radio's Shelagh Rogers has talked with countless writers, critics, literary types and readers over the years at State of the Arts, Morningside, This Morning and Sounds Like Canada. When her latest show, The Next Chapter debuted in September 2008 - Shelagh hopped in a car with the author Donna Morrissey and drove to Donna's childhood home, a small outport on the west coast of Newfoundland. Morrissey's novel called "What They Wanted" is an exploration of the idea of home.

Clip 16 Rohinton Mistry is only one of a wave of Canadian writers whose novels are set outside Canada. Mistry was born in Mumbai and moved to this country as a young man. His first novel, Such a Long Journey, published in 1991 earned him much acclaim. He talked to Shelagh Rogers on her program The Arts Tonight.  

Clip 17 Over the course of Eleanor Wachtel's 20 years as host of "Writers & Company," she's spoken to Michael Ondaatje many times. He's the acclaimed author of the novels "In the Skin of a Lion,"  "The English Patient" and "Anil's Ghost", but he's also a prize-winning poet, and he's even written a book of his own interviews with film editor, Walter Murch. In the fall of 2010, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of W & C, he turned the tables and interviewed Eleanor. We aired the beginning of that standing room only event, which took place at the Toronto Reference Library.