Unjustly Unknown CanLit

Today’s Washington Post review of David Adams Richards’s new novel begins by asking:

Why do Canadian writers get so little respect south of the border? Unless they’re caught writing “color” as “colour” or “center” as “centre,” you’d think they could waltz into the unsuspecting arms of American book buyers. But the tendency to dismiss them is so strong that not long ago an American publisher told me she was stripping all mention of a novelist’s Canadian identity from her publicity material in hopes of increasing the writer’s chances.

One of the happiest discoveries I’ve made since moving to Canada is finding a vast body of hitherto unknown Canadian writing– it’s like finding the backlist of a hundred favorite authors all at once.  I had of course read Munro and Atwood and Shields and Mistry, but I’d never heard of Margaret Lawrence. Or Shyam Selvadurai. Or Elyse Friedman, Barbara Gowdy, Richard B. Wright, or Miriam Toews. I can think of a dozen more such authors woefully under-appreciated outside Canada.

One such unjustly unknown writer is Diane Schoemperlen.  She’s best known for her 2001 novel Our Lady of the Lost and Found, but the one for my money is 1998’s Forms of Devotion, which I reviewed for the literary magazine Gambara‘s “Books unknown and unheard of” column.  Here’s an excerpt from my review:

“…This book combines art and prose with a whimsical literary genius; I cannot remember the last time a book allowed me to dip so deeply into such varied waters. This book has eleven stories in all, and each hums with the author’s intelligence. The title story, “Forms of Devotion,” is a series of ten short interlinked essays, on topics such as faith, hope, strength and wisdom. Each essay makes us feel as though our lives are being examined under a microscope, by an unusually keen-eyed pathologist. Schoemperlen parses our every behavior, not only to find meaning, but to show how quotidian actions can accrete into a celebration — or rejection — of the human condition.

What is manifestly clear is that Schoemperlen brings to her subject matter a wholly original, startling sensibility. Daily chores and mundane objects, under her gaze, are revealed to be comical, bizarre, and more often than not, beautiful. The power of Schoemperlen’s writing compels us to share in her vision, forcing us to look at our environment and at ourselves in a new way, oftentimes as much to our bemusement as our joy, even as ordinary items transform into repositories of wonder.”

My review perhaps is little short of gushing, but: why aren’t people writing  Ph.D. dissertations on Schoemperlen and quoting her in their prefaces and giving her lots of awards and money? Could it be because she’s, you know, Canadian?

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