The following is an edited version of a conversation recorded on February 17, 2021. We decided to do this book review as a conversation, because we are the co-authors of the forthcoming Routledge Volume on Auto/biography in Canada, the first volume to be written about different forms of life writing in what is currently called Canada, also known as Turtle Island. Doing the work for the volume has made us very aware of the role we have as editors—and as teachers—not only to think through the importance of personal non-fiction in Canada, but also to consider carefully the role auto/biography plays and has played in struggles against racism and colonialism. Since we work as a collective, and because we don’t think the same way about everything, we also feel that it is important to bring multiple voices into conversation; after all, there is more than one way to read the story of Canadian non-fiction. Because we are located in four different time zones, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts, this conversation took place on Zoom. We transcribed and then collaboratively edited the resulting text.
Candida Rifkind: Since the four of us are working together on a guide to auto/biography in Canada, this forum is a great opportunity to assess where we are right now in terms of life writing in this country. Memoir and other kinds of personal non-fiction are popular right now, especially because so many titles—particularly by Black and Indigenous writers—speak to the present moment’s concerns about racism, sexism, and colonialism. Looking at the 2020 Canadian bestseller list, it’s not surprising to see the top two titles are Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes and Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In, both highly personal and searing indictments of systemic racism and the Canadian justice system. The two books we discuss, Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up (McClelland & Stewart, 2020) and Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir (Viking, 2019), give us the opportunity to consider both how millennial women of colour are writing about their lives, and how we see these life narratives fitting into Canadian literature more broadly.
We should note that while we are discussing the print books, both are also available in e-book and audiobook formats, and in August 2020, CBC News reported that They Said This Would Be Fun will be adapted for television. Also, We Have Always Been Here won a 2020 Lambda Literary Award and was the CBC Canada Reads 2020 winner. So there is clearly a big appetite for these stories in Canada. If we start by looking at how they are marketed (both Viking and McClelland & Stewart are imprints of Penguin Random House Canada), it’s interesting to note the cover of Habib’s book announces it as “a queer Muslim memoir.” The inside jacket of Martis’ book, meanwhile, describes it as a “powerful and moving memoir”; however, “memoir” does not appear in the title. Nor does the book itself necessarily conform to that genre label. So let’s make sure we discuss how these books fit into the existing generic expectations of memoir, but perhaps we should start by using them to measure the state of the field in Canada today.
Question: What can these two books tell us about the current state of memoir and life writing more generally in Canada?
Julie Rak: Particularly in the United States, there has been an uptick in the publication of memoirs by women of colour that are to do with experiences of racism and also sexual assault. The best-known version of that is Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017), and she even references some of these things in Bad Feminist (2014), too. But Hunger is by no means the only book. There are quite a few and they are getting a lot of traction in the United States. I think that you could understand particularly Eternity Martis’ work in this way, but even Samra Habib’s, because some of her book is about her work as an activist in the United States.
I actually think it would be helpful to think about these books not just as books in Canada, but to think about them as part of a larger movement around doing memoir work, particularly by BIPOC authors (so that’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) who are writers. Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (2019) is another one that would fit into this movement. There’s quite a few that have appeared. For obvious reasons, they’re primarily aimed at a younger demographic than the memoirs of the 1990s. I think they’re written differently too, and they’re responding to live political issues. Because both Eternity Martis and Samra Habib are journalists, I think that they’re topical on purpose and this is why even though these are both first books, they’re by experienced writers who are used to responding to political issues. In other words, while they might be marketed as memoirs, they’re meant to be thought pieces, I think, as well as life stories. This is another reason why I think it’s really important to understand them in the Canadian context.
Laurie McNeill: As you point out, Julie, both authors’ identities and professional ways of knowing come through journalism, and this is crucial to thinking about what they’re doing and how. Their training is not literary training and as writers they’re not participating in the literary tradition; that’s not the circuit they’re travelling in. There’s a lot to unpack from that background in relation to how they shape their texts, their research practices; maybe they are producing new instances of memoir that intersect with long-form journalism. I would say that’s more true of Eternity Martis’ text than Samra Habib’s, which is shaped more traditionally like a memoir.
I agree with Julie that, as journalists, both Martis and Habib are used to making these sorts of public interventions. They are used to getting the message out and participating in communities of speakers across a variety of platforms. If we think about production and reception, these authors have a series of platforms—for example, Martis has a blog and has published shorter pieces in online outlets such as The Huffington Post—where they have been in conversations with the public about their own and others’ experiences. They have that facility with multiple platforms simultaneously. These books are just maybe the most traditional way that they are entering that public discourse.
Sonja Boon: They Said This Would Be Fun definitely feels like it comes out of blogging discourse. Reading it linked me also to books like Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object: A Memoir (2016) and Mona Eltahawy’s The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls (2019), and both of these writers have strong social media personalities. Valenti’s and Eltahawy’s books are located in the personal, but so strongly within a larger political context. The political is very important to their understandings of self. All of this said, it may also be part of a generational shift where the original impetus comes out of blogging and that informal space of asking, “Who am I in relation to all this stuff that’s brewing around me in various ways?”
LM: Would you say that this is a kind of citation that’s not literary allusion? It’s more like a set of shadow hyperlinks that signal community in the ways that you would do if you were linking in your blog posts?
SB: Martis pulls from a lot of American examples and draws on American college culture. To me, it feels like I’m reading that informality of blog posts, where hyperlinks allow you to dive both more deeply and more broadly into things to create this bigger picture.
JR: What I think it reminds me of when I hear you two talking about this is Kai Cheng Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World (2019), because she says that book is based on her blog posts. It’s very similar in form to a blog entry: the essays in here are very short. Alicia Elliot also has said similar things about her own, I’ll call it memoir work, but she has also said she’s writing essays. A lot of them were part of online writing of various kinds. I think that you’re right to say that the form of particularly Eternity Martis’ work is influenced by this online world.
But it’s also this case where the paper book is still an anchor. It’s still a really important moment in their lives as writers and it’s a way that they reach other audiences, but it isn’t the only way. It’s part of an ecosystem where ideas circulate across platforms and are going to continue to do so. These two authors are also particularly active on Twitter and understand themselves as Twitter essayists and use the forms very knowingly.
Question: How are we reading these books as academic women and from a particular generational stance?
CR: I am interested in how we read these books specifically from our positions, the four of us. We are not from this generation and we are not necessarily the target audience. We come to these with an academic interest in memoir, but maybe even that needs to be questioned.
JR: I certainly myself think about these books as a teacher and I think about each of them differently. I think that’s something that the audience who teaches and reads Canadian literature are going to want to know. Do they teach well?
Another issue for me is generational. Samra Habib is writing a coming-out story that is quite different from the one that I would know better from earlier. It’s not just that she’s a queer Muslim of colour. It’s also to do with changes in gender politics, changes in ideas about what gender identity is and what sexuality is. These ideas were simply not available to people in my generation in the way that they are available today. I sense very much that these books are not for me, but that’s okay. We’re critical readers, too, and so we’re interested in things that aren’t always for us or about us so I think that it’s a worthwhile thing to think through a little bit.
CR: One thing that both books share is descriptions of multiple forms of violence. Thinking about They Said This Would Be Fun in particular, as women working in universities, I think we need to discuss campus life in her book.
SB: I started first-year university in 1987 and honestly, I was struck by the fact that nothing appeared to have changed in the years between 1987 and 2010, when Martis started her undergraduate degree. The campus space, the amount of violence—that is, the violence of language, sexual violence, racialized violence, physical violence—was there when I was an undergraduate. And I hear similar stories from undergraduates now, too. Students who don’t come to class because they’ve left an abusive partner and they’re in a shelter. A student whose mother was murdered by her partner. Students who experience racist abuse. Students who are harassed, assaulted, raped. Violence surrounds every aspect of the campus experience. This struck me immediately about Martis’ work. Reading They Said This Would Be Fun was like being right back in first year again. Whereas in We Have Always Been Here, it’s the violence of the religious repression, both within and outside Habib’s faith community. And this repression results in layers and webs of secrets and silences. Although the violence—psychic, emotional, physical—is there, it’s very different from what’s going on in Martis. Martis was like a magnifying glass on university experience offered in a very upfront, in some ways confrontational, way. Because Habib writes in a more traditional memoir structure and form, this violence is not as confrontational; it’s not that the violence is not there but it’s articulated in very, very different ways.
JR: It was 1985 for me, and yes, nothing’s changed. There was that same racism the way that she says there is. There’s still the threat you’re going to be assaulted. In the 1980s, that was just the world you lived in. It was the air you breathed. I always wanted to believe that policy would make things better and that’s why some of us did that work because we wanted to make things different, and it isn’t different. The only thing that’s different is that Eternity Martis can actually talk about it. Because she came out of that and she has the platform to do it and that wasn’t true thirty years ago. But other things are the same. I found that book really hard to read because I went through a lot in university, without saying anything about everyday racist and sexist violence. I was reminded of that when I was reading. I think we’re still in this cycle of racism and violence in universities and I feel like we’ve failed to stop all that. I wanted to give up reading at one point. I thought, “Oh my God, are we ever going to make it better?”
SB: It was definitely a hard read. What’s also striking is that Martis doesn’t position herself as a “good girl.” This is more common in “white lady” memoirs, but it’s much riskier to do this as a racialized woman. To give just one example, Martis references the SlutWalk movement, but observes that “Sexual liberation is different for [Black women]” (150).
Question: How would you teach either of these texts?
SB: I would teach Martis as part of our first-year critical reading and writing course in identities and difference. There’s so much in there to chew on: it’s not just personal, but it’s also political, it’s also social. It’s everything, and so I can immediately envision a broad range of thinking and writing prompts. It would also fit well in a broad “Intro to Gender Studies” course. It takes up a range of relevant topics (gender, race, class, misogynoir, among others) and references some key thinkers (Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, etc.). It’s a very approachable text, particularly for students who may not have much exposure to scholarly or academic writing. I would assign Habib in an upper-level class or seminar, mostly because of the complexity of her queer Muslim identity. I think that would be very hard to work through with first-years, largely because of rampant Islamophobia in society. I don’t think I would be able to get at the complexities of her identity in the context of the two first-year courses offered in our department.
CR: I’m wondering about teaching Habib and problems of exoticization. The arranged marriage and the flight from persecution seem to have been readily consumed by Canadian audiences and I worry about that.
SB: That’s why I would be worried about teaching it for first-years. I don’t think I could situate it effectively enough in a first-year class because I think it would be very challenging to get beyond those problems of exoticization. I would love to have a big conversation with students about the embodiment of queer identity, for example: how it feels for Habib to have the word “queer” inside her mouth but be unable to speak, write, or fully articulate it. To me that was such a moving part of the book. It’s in her body, her head, and her heart, but until she’s preparing for her trip to Japan, she is unable to write it on her own terms (143). But I don’t think I could get to these conversations with a first-year class, because they’d be derailed by the “exotic” factors.
LM: I wanted to bring this line in from Habib because I think it’s central to both how and why we might teach both texts and also these questions of audiences. Habib writes, “Representation is a critical way for people to recognize that their experiences—even if invisible in the mainstream—are valid” (176). For me as an instructor, that’s one of the things that would make both of these texts appealing, how they make visible experiences and subjects that otherwise may not be found in a traditional course or memoir, and they need to be seen and heard as well. Our students need to see themselves in our courses.
Going back to Martis, I think that book flags for us that there are multiple imagined audiences that this text is reaching out to. Some of those audiences need education that these bodies and issues exist. For Martis, I think her family acts as a shadow or stand-in audience for people who need to learn about the experiences of being mixed race and identifying multiply in ways that they may not be identified by others. Elsewhere, she does all of the research work, including statistics, for example, to situate and verify experiences of sexual violence as well as racialized violence. And, as we’ve just talked about, in other places she situates herself in a Gender and Women’s Studies syllabus, introducing her readers to the texts that made her experiences make sense to her, such as Audre Lorde, Brittney C. Cooper, and Ntozake Shange (225-26). In these moments, she’s building a reading list for her audiences so that they can also find these touchstones. At the same time, I think she is saying, “Hey, I see you, other young women of colour,” with what I see as “we” moments that hail other women of colour who have sat in the classrooms and been what she calls the “token” brown or Black body. I think there’s quite a complex series of audiences being hailed simultaneously, and she’s making space for them in different ways.
CR: Can I talk about teaching these books in terms of CanLit? Because I regularly teach survey and topics courses. Rather than first-year courses in life writing or women’s and gender studies, I think We Have Always Been Here would be the better fit in a CanLit survey course, because it works with other diasporic, postcolonial, and immigrant feminist texts. I can see teaching those, especially alongside South Asian Canadian writers, in a module. In a way, some of Habib’s childhood memories are very similar to those appearing in other works; I’m thinking also of Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (1994), because there are queer South Asian Canadian writers who have written about these families, and we’ve seen similar families before. I think students would be interested to then see what happens to them when they come to Canada, and from a queer point of view. I’m also interested in how these books have skyrocketed in popularity in relationship to CanLit.
Question: How can we understand the popularity of both of these books and the interventions they are making into CanLit as a formation?
LM: Well, I think there’s a kind of kairos, an opportune moment for these books: they are the right books at the right time. Canada Reads plays a major role in making some texts “right” for a time, in ways that serve particular interests and that also might shape a book’s reputation as mainstream or “middlebrow” so that it ends up being rejected in/by CanLit as “popular.”
SB: What constitutes literature and what constitutes CanLit? And who decides? Are these books pushing too hard against CanLit boundaries? I think they are. Both books ask readers to read differently, but they also, and this is important, invite readers to write their own stories. Both Martis and Habib lay down a challenge, and deliberately so.
JR: Canadian literature circles have had a long allergy to thinking about popular texts past and present. For years, no one even wanted to think about that, or the fact that Harlequin romances are among the bestselling books of all time in this country and we act like they don’t exist. We think the critiques of them in Margaret Atwood are what we should teach.
CR: At the same time though, there’s a long history of engaged political writing. Putting on my Canadian literary historian hat, we could go back to the 1890s or earlier with social reform novels like Agnes Maule Machar’s Roland Graeme: Knight, then you get to social gospel writing, labourite poets, and then the 1930s literary left, who have always been dismissed as overly political and polemical.
JR: To my mind, this is a way of saying we don’t need to have canonicity in the same way that our forefathers, mothers, and others might’ve thought we needed. Maybe we can just say, “No, we don’t have to read the same things all the time.” We have to think laterally. I think that these kinds of books task us too, and they always have. But ever since Susanna Moodie said that the Montreal Literary Garland wasn’t going to do sentimental fiction, we’ve had this problem in CanLit about what we’re supposed to read. I’m really over this way of thinking, obviously. Because I think that asking whether something’s more complex than something else doesn’t actually get at what the issues are.
CR: For me, We Have Always Been Here would work well alongside fiction, poetry, and drama in a CanLit course, but I also wanted to speak to the citational practices of They Said This Would Be Fun, because one thing that frustrates me is how Martis writes herself into racialized, sexualized Canadian spaces without citing others who have been or are there, too. On page five she writes, “I was Black, I was a woman, and I was out of place. I didn’t identify as Black until I got to London.” That statement brought to my mind Katherine McKittrick’s work on Black women’s geographies, and the way that Martis’ book is as much about London as it is about her. It’s about that space and the racialized, sexualized version of herself she encounters in that space. But what frustrated me is that the majority of her feminist coming to consciousness is American. She’s writing herself into a Canadian space, but doesn’t have access—I think largely because of the limits in her university education—to other Black women who have tried and sometimes been challenged in writing themselves into those spaces. The citational practices to bell hooks and others seem to do what Black Canadian scholars like Rinaldo Walcott talk about a lot, which is the erasure of Black Canadian history in this space.
I would have loved it if she had encountered Makeda Silvera, NourbeSe Philip, or Afua Cooper, and had a sense of herself as a Black Canadian woman in that space. But I don’t think that’s a critique of her. I think that’s a critique of the framing of Blackness in that institution and in that space. But if I taught it, I would need to supplement it and say, okay, we’ve seen Dionne Brand writing about rural Ontario and the whiteness of that space. I guess to me, maybe the market for this book is less national than we want to think of as Canadian literature scholars. Maybe she is writing to that community Julie was talking about that includes Roxane Gay and others.
JR: I also think that it’s about something else in CanLit and the way we think about Canadian writing that is siloed. I actually think that if you study life writing, you have to be more transnational when you’re thinking about it. For instance, social media and newer media forms do not respect national boundaries. But I am concerned at the same time by the erosion of Canadian-based literary forms and Canadian-based media access, where there are fewer opportunities to figure out what is going on in Canada than there were when I was the same age as Samra Habib or Eternity Martis.
I would challenge the people reading Habib to think about how many texts by clearly queer-identified authors they have taught in the past two decades. There is not a lot that gets taught. That is a silence inside of the formation. There is good work that people like Terry Goldie and others have done, but LGBTQ2S+ authors still aren’t taught as much as they should be. I think that the life writing that we’re looking at here is part of the way to stop that from happening. To me, life writing can be an intervention into those larger Canadian literature formations and can say, “Hey, these are experiences. These are ways of thinking about things that have not been part of what it means to do CanLit.” We have to ask why. As Laurie pointed out earlier, “Our students need to see themselves in our courses.”
There’s been quite a lot of intervention recently around racism and sexual assault and other things in the CanLit formation, and this is one way to push back against it—to look at stories that are not, as Laurie said, necessarily literary. Or not by people who would understand themselves to be literary writers. That may have an advantage. There might be an intervention that can be made.
Question: What do these life writers additionally teach us about life writing and representation in CanLit?
JR: I did see some social media discussion between some major writers of colour about how the awards for non-fiction are being discontinued right at the moment when they start writing non-fiction. To me there’s a politics around this way of talking about experience and a way of changing things, even of making Black lives matter. If they’re going to matter, we should teach and read their memoirs. To me, I think that’s more important than what some colleagues might’ve said in the past about the enduring nature of Canadian literature or worrying about whether it’s “good enough.”
CR: If we look at the epilogue to They Said This Would Be Fun, Martis actually says exactly this right on the very last page: that personal writing by marginalized groups has often been treated as lazy and self-indulgent by the same critics that would praise white male memoirs. There’s a couple of interesting self-reflexive moments in this book where she also lists white addiction memoirs when talking about her own alcoholism. She’s very much writing, I think, to this tradition. But what’s interesting to me is it’s explicit at the end that Martis wants her memoir to inspire other people to write theirs. She actually says, “write and live your truth. Speak up. Rage. Because the time for silence has passed” (238). And that’s also the tenor of the end of Habib’s memoir. So going back to the representational politics, I feel like both appeal to a larger collective. It’s almost like a manifesto for life writing: “I’ve written mine and now you should join this community as well through telling your story.” I feel like this manifestary moment in both of them also would make them seem less literary in a conventional, very traditional way.
JR: You know what? I just want to add Habib’s comments into this very excellent discussion about the political valence of this question. She says, “Not everyone is equipped for activism in the traditional sense—marching, writing letters to officials—but dedicating your life to understanding yourself can be its own form of protest. Especially when the world tells you, you don’t exist” (214). That statement, which is about her activism, is also about this book. To me, it’s exactly what you were talking about and it’s very similar to what Martis is saying about what the worth of these things is, what they’re for.
LM: If we think about bringing our colleagues along to teaching these texts, if we can think that the point of teaching Canadian literature is to talk about what Canada looks like, then I see part of an ethics of pedagogy in a Canadian context is to make sure that your reading list doesn’t always look back, but also looks around, looks to who’s in your classroom. Because in some ways you’re answering the hail that both writers are doing to say, “We have voices that also need to be heard. We have hands that need to be raised and experiences that need to be accounted for as part of literary, cultural, political policy,” all those conversations they’re not at or are marginalized or tokenized at.
JR: I think you’re right about that, Laurie. So how are those voices heard? One of the reasons why Habib’s book has become bestselling has to do with the fact that it was the winner of the 2020 Canada Reads. But Canada Reads brings winning books into a very specific frame. It creates this pedagogical way to read so that it’s understood in the show that these books aren’t necessarily the best ones; they’re the ones you can learn from. The theme of Canada Reads is almost always, “What book is going to make Canada a better place?” That places a lot of ideological freight on a book like this. As I think Candida mentioned early on, having “queer Muslim memoir” in giant letters on the cover, readers are supposed to know what that means. This is identity in a book and you’re going to consume it. But I think Sonja’s right too. There’s lots more to this book than that and there are ambiguities in the book that are worth thinking through.
Question: How do these books intervene in or resist dominant literary conventions and political representations? Are they filling CanLit’s desire for “trauma porn”?
LM: I don’t think Habib triumphs at the end of We Have Always Been Here. I don’t think she would put it that way. It’s complicated: she does find an identity as a queer Muslim and is still part of her family, but it’s not an assimilationist narrative, like she finds herself by “becoming Canadian.” She’s made space for herself in Islam, in her family, in Canada, yes, but possibly by queering those spaces. And it’s not complete: there is still longing, she recognizes and speaks to loss, too. I think that’s true for Martis’ text, too. They are both still standing at the end, they’re resolute, sure. But also they’re saying, “This is messy and it’s complicated and it’s not perfect, but it’s mine and it’s on my terms.” In that way, I think that they push back against the forces that Vivek Shraya describes in “How Did the Suffering of Marginalized Artists Become So Marketable?”, her fabulous essay on the commodification of marginalized artists’ trauma, that appetite in the market for trauma porn that limits the kinds of stories that are or can be told. Both of these texts could easily be shelved literally and figuratively under those kinds of trauma narratives but there are elements of resistance in them that we could think about as refusing the kind of wounded traumatized narrative that those bodies are supposed to perform.
CR: I went to the Goodreads reviews, which are always really interesting to me versus academic reviews, and several Muslim readers were disappointed that Habib doesn’t give us insight into her relationship to Islam. That might be another kind of resistance, as she keeps her spiritual and religious life private from the reader. What we do know is that she comes to identify as a queer Muslim, but I can see how maybe a Muslim reader, and especially a queer Muslim reader, would want to know, “How do I do that? How do I negotiate that?” She doesn’t actually go into her religious identity very much at all. Maybe we can read that as a resistance as well to our desire to know the most intimate thing, which is the conventional promise of memoir. She refuses that on that level at least with religion.
SB: When I’ve taught memoirs, some students have felt that they have a right to the “whole story.” They feel like they have a right to know everything about a memoirist’s life. Thinking through memoirs—as genre—is important in this regard. Memoirists have stories to share, but they also have stories they don’t want to share. They have a right to privacy as well. They are consenting for you to read a specific part of their story, but not the “whole story.” I think sometimes students imagine memoir as “I’m vomiting my life; here it is for you.” But what do we, as readers, have a right to? And why do we think we have these rights? And further, what stories do memoirists themselves have rights to? What choices do memoirists make in terms of what they feel they do and do not have a right to tell? In Habib’s memoir, for example, there’s a noticeable shift in the writing style. The first part of the book is much more like reportage. She takes a journalist’s eye to observe her life, but I don’t get the sense that she is really inside that life. I wonder if this might have something to do with the fact that the first section of her story is much more intimately linked with her family. When she starts writing about her adult life, she’s much more inside it than she is earlier on.
As racialized writers, both Martis and Habib have to think more carefully and more consciously about what those boundaries might look like, especially given Candida’s earlier observation about problems of exoticization. The choices memoirists make about what they don’t tell are sometimes almost more important than what they do tell.
LM: There is resistance in both books in ways that we might not have initially been attending to. Particularly for two writers who already have very public identities in many ways, and who also tell us all kinds of things that may be surprising or titillating or scandalous, but then refuse to be public about other things.
In her acknowledgements, Martis says to her grandfather, “Sorry it’s not a PG as you’d like” (244). She does make a choice to tell stuff that’s shocking, though if we think about some of her addressees, other millennial women, maybe that stuff is not all that shocking to them. I think she’s less discreet than Habib, who carves out a very particular space for things she will speak to.
CR: For me, what’s been so helpful about this conversation is how we’ve moved from the ways these two books have been marketed and received, to how they work within the genre of memoir and as life writing more generally, to the kinds of work they could do in the classroom, to this final point that we need to pay attention to what Martis and Habib don’t write about, and the stories they either won’t or can’t tell. I think this is where both They Said This Would Be Fun and We Have Always Been Here make powerful interventions into CanLit as well as popular and public discourses around race, sexuality, gender, and age in Canada. We have two millennial women writers of colour whose texts are presented as memoirs, as tell-alls about their specific experiences and identities as they came of age, and whose voices are certainly taken up as activist and empowering for their readers. But, ultimately the resistances these texts present occur as much within the life narratives as in the ways they are, or could be, deployed in anti-racist and LGBTQ2S+ struggles. And that is super interesting, because it shows the value of reading life narrative as narrative rather than as a pure index of experience, and highlights how bringing books like these into more mainstream CanLit conversations could help bridge scholarly and popular interests, as well as encourage students to read both popular texts and memoirs more critically.
Cole, Desmond. The Skin We’re In. Doubleday, 2020.
Elliott, Alicia. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. Anchor, 2020.
Eltahawy, Mona. The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls. Beacon, 2019.
Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist. Harper Perennial, 2014.
—. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. HarperCollins, 2017.
Habib, Samra. We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir. Viking, 2019.
Martis, Eternity. They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up. McClelland & Stewart, 2020.
Maule Machar, Agnes. Roland Graeme, Knight: A Novel of Our Time. 1892. Tecumseh, 1996.
Shraya, Vivek. “How Did the Suffering of Marginalized Artists Become So Marketable?” NOW Toronto, 1 May 2019, nowtoronto.com/culture/art-and-design/vivek-shraya-trauma-clown. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Thistle, Jesse. From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. Simon & Schuster, 2019.
Thom, Kai Cheng. I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World. Arsenal Pulp, 2019.
Valenti, Jessica. Sex Object: A Memoir. Dey Street, 2016.
Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.