BLOG: Art Matters forum in conjunction with the presentation of the 2009 Governor General's Literary Awards
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November 20, 2009
by His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond
For this 43rd edition of Art Matters, we will be exploring the identity of our literature and, by extension, Canadian identity. What is it that distinguishes our English literature from that written in the United States or Britain? What is it that ensures that our French literature is not confused with European French or Belgian literature? To what extent do our land, history and people shape our literature? How do the words and ideas of our writers actively shape the way in which we live together?
As I have often said, I am absolutely convinced that what is created in Canada creates Canada itself. And now, the time has come to ask: How is your writing “Canadian”? We will not be able to reach a definitive answer to this question in the space of an evening, but this year’s recipients of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the panellists of this forum, Serge Bouchard and Noah Richler, and the moderator of our discussion, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President of Carleton University and literary expert, will be sharing their thoughts with us. We will also be hearing from members of the public because this forum, which will be held at Rideau Hall, is open to everyone. Those who cannot travel to Ottawa will be able to express their opinions on the evening’s theme by taking part in the forum on this same topic on this site (link).
Literature conveys at once the universal and the distinctive, the uniqueness of our experiences, the story of our collective adventure, a vision for the future. The true wealth of Canada is its diversity; the true wealth of our literature is also its diversity, a diversity of sentiments, opinions, stories, narrations, etc. Margaret Atwood, in her book Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, writes “(…) how literature is made: it’s made by people living in a particular space and at a particular time.” Every author brings to Canadian literature his or her own piece of history and adds to that literature, which is in no way fixed or definitive. Our literature has described the immensity of the land, the History of the country. Today, it is interesting to see how literature written in French in Quebec and created by authors born outside its borders is being so well received internationally. Dany Laferrière, Catherine Mavrikakis, Edem Awumey, the list goes on and on, are confirming through their talent and commitment that this Canadian literature, which is open to so many sources of inspiration, derives its very essence from diversity.
However, can we really put a definitive label on our literature? The very notion of such firm delimitation runs contrary to the free spirit of creation. Of course, we can try to qualify the citizenship of our literature, to define its character, but we should remember that literature is not subject to borders, cares nothing for nationalisms, issues surrounding identity or fascisms, and is always there to resist and to sustain the soul of peoples, because the imagination cannot be snuffed out. So let us explore these questions together and strive to maintain that spirit of creation and our ability to enchant.