“How a Girl from Canada Break the Bigtime”: Esi Edugyan and the Next Generation of Literary Celebrity in Canada


Esi Edugyan’s experience with literary celebrity, prize culture, and publishing companies at home and abroad, has much to tell us about how new generations of literary celebrities are affected by the ascendancy of neoliberal economic policies that are shaking the publishing world. Unlike previous generations of Canadian literary celebrities such as Atwood and Ondaatje, who were drawn to alternative, small-scale modes of production (House of Anansi and Coach House Presses, respectively), Edugyan’s generation, beneficiaries of new social media and an explosion of alternative platforms for sharing their work, are, ironically, under greater pressure much earlier in their careers to leave smaller-scale outlets behind for mainstream success. As the story of Edugyan’s publishing history to date shows, the industry’s thirst for the kind of mainstream success that might keep their operations afloat (bestsellers bankrolling the production of more modest-selling books) has the effect of delegitimizing alternative modes of production. And when the winning of a major literary prize like the Giller or Man Booker opens the doors to lucrative publishing deals with major presses, this only serves to emphasize, by contrast, the conflicted positions out of which only a few of these new writers emerge. In the case of Esi Edugyan, this situation is complicated by the way in which her two novels to date—The Second Life of Samuel Tyne in 2004 and Half-Blood Blues in 2011—meditate on celebrity, greatness, giftedness and obscurity. Accordingly, my analysis will attend both to Edugyan’s experiences in the worlds of publishing, news media and prize culture and to her literary engagement with celebrity culture, for her novels open up spaces in which she may contemplate, even if indirectly, the complicated legacies of celebrity culture.

This article ““How a Girl from Canada Break the Bigtime”: Esi Edugyan and the Next Generation of Literary Celebrity in Canada” originally appeared in Gendering the Archive. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 217 (Summer 2013): 18-33.

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