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Cover of issue #221

Current Issue: #221 Science & Canadian Literature (Summer 2014)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 221 (Summer 2014) is now available. This special issue focuses on science and Canadian literature and features a wide range of articles and book reviews as well as a selection of new Canadian poetry.

Collecting Regions

  • David Stouck (Editor) and Myler Wilkinson (Editor)
    Genius of Place: Writing About British Columbia. Polestar Book Publishers (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Lothar Honnighausen (Editor)
    Regional Images and Regional Realities. Stauffenburg Verlag (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • George Melnyk (Author)
    The Literary History of Alberta Volume Two. University of Alberta Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Alison Calder

In 1998 David Stouck and Myler Wilkinson edited West by Northwest, an anthology of short fiction from British Columbia. Genius of Place shows how the same ground has been covered by non-fiction writers. The anthology collects 29 essays, articles, and memoirs that focus on British Columbia from a variety of cultural perspectives. Almost all have been previously published, but many are located in hard-to-ftnd sources; this collection is thus a useful resource to readers seeking historical writings about British Columbia.

Stouck and Wilkinson have wisely decided not to try to force the selections in their anthology into a narrow definition of British Columbian identity. The pieces show that British Columbia can be many different spaces at once, existing as a space of adventure and possibility, as in the exploration and mountaineering selections featured, but also as a space of imprisonment and oppression, most clearly seen in accounts of Japanese internment camps and the tightly regulated population of Chinatown. The province also emerges as a radically different space throughout time, as the explorer texts contrast with more recent accounts of pleasure sailing up the coast. The focus on articulating the land leads to a collection weighted towards environmental and nature writing; we see correspondingly few selections that treat urban British Columbia. Standout pieces in the collection are Terry Glavin on the oolichan, Muriel Kitigawa on Japanese internment camps, Helen Meilleur on Ft. Simpson, Milton and Cheadle on the incredible hardships faced by travellers in the interior, and Muriel Wylie Blanchet on dreamy sailing summers.

The Literary History of Alberta Volume One ended at the close of the second World War. Volume Two, also by George Melnyk, picks up where the first volume left off. Chapters cover the novel, short fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction and scholarship, popular fiction, and children’s literature up until about 1997. Melnyk also discusses the frequently overlooked category of writers who publish in languages other than English. His chapter on Alberta book culture (publishers, literary institutions, and writers’ organizations) emphasizes the importance of these networks and outlets to the Alberta literary community. Melnyk has chosen to organize the book by genre; within each genre, each author is discussed in the order of the year of his or her first publication. (Writers of the 1990s are put together in their own chapter). This organization provides the reader with a sense of the connections within each genre. Unfortunately, this layout also makes it difficult to track the development of authors who work in more than one genre and leads to some repetition.

Melnyk seeks to create an understanding of authors who have "contributed to a sense of Alberta identity." He stresses that his role is that of literary historian, not literary critic. The book provides a good catalogue of writers, including brief biographies, a description of their works, some sense of their relative importance, and a sample of critical response to their writing, where relevant. Such a project is necessarily limited; specialist readers may find Melnyk’s generalizations frustrating. As a basic source, however, it is useful, not the least because of the many photographs it includes.

The genre of the literary history requires a concluding statement. Melnyk argues that Alberta writing has undergone what he describes as a "macro movement" from "aboriginal, to anti-aboriginal writing, to reconstructed aboriginal." (The concluding chapter is heavily laced with Marxist rhetoric.) Unfortunately, this conclusion is not supported by the book’s contents. There are very few Aboriginal authors included in this history, and the non-Aboriginal writers writing about Aboriginal topics occupy a spectrum from Rudy Wiebe to W.P. Kinsella. One thing the catalogue does show is Alberta’s increasing multiculturalism, and one wonders how this new cultural mix can fit into any conception of "the Alberta identity."

If there is one strand that unites the widely varied studies of region collected in Regional Images and Regional Realities, it is the argument that there is no such thing as one regional identity. Instead, the papers that Lothar Hönnighausen has assembled demonstrate that any region is a mixture of cultures and geographies whose boundaries are always in flux. No longer is the important question "what is a region," writes Hönnighausen, but rather "how do these apparently opposite tendencies of globalism and regionalism interrelate and complement each other?" Correspondingly, many of the essays focus on the "creolization" of regional culture, from general discussions like Jürgen Donnerstag’s "The Question of Regional Culture in Intercultural Learning" to Hanjo Berressem’s delightfully focussed analysis of "Elvis and El Vez." This interdisciplinary collection ranges from history and political science to literature and music, but its geographic scope is limited to Europe and North America. Some of the essays, such as Gundula Wilke’s consideration of regional elements of North American crime fiction, rely on description more than analysis, perhaps reflecting this anthology’s origins in a symposium. Eva-Marie Kröller’s essay on Vancouver regionalism will be of particular interest to Canadianists.

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MLA: Calder, Alison. Collecting Regions. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 3 May 2015.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #170-171 (Autumn/Winter 2001), Nature / Culture. (pg. 240 - 241)

***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.

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