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80 years of Q&Q: getting personal with CanLit personalities

obasan-coverEmbracing Joy Kowaga’s Obasan

Joy Kogawa was used to rejection. Before her now-classic novel Obasan was published in 1981 by Lester and Orpen Dennys, Kogawa pitched the manuscript – about the persecution of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War – to countless publishers who said the story wouldn’t sell because it wasn’t mainstream. For Kogawa, this felt like just another layer of rejection she experienced as a Japanese-Canadian.

Nearly 35 years later, Kogawa still feels overwhelmed by the book’s success, so much so she admits she felt like a fraud when the recognition started happening. Still, she embraces the success like a leaf in the wind: “It’s the way I think about life, it’s all unexpected: what happens is not a matter of deserving. I still feel like a leaf more than I ever have.”


(photo: Frank Lennon)

Jane Jacobs (photo: Frank Lennon)

In 1968, internationally celebrated urban activist and author Jane Jacobs moved to Toronto, where she published six books, including The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty (1980) and The Nature of Economies (2000).

Gabrielle Roy’s fictional portrait of working-class Montreal, Bonheur d’occasion (1945), was translated into English as The Tin Flute, after which it won the 1947 Governor General’s Award for Literary Merit.

Susan Wood’s sci-fi feminism University of British Columbia professor, literary critic, and passionate science-fiction fan Susan Wood brought a pioneering feminist perspective to the male-dominated genre, winning her first of four Hugo Awards for writing in 1973. A year later, Wood published The Poison Maiden & the Great Bitch: Female Stereotypes in Marvel Superhero Comics – a subject that sadly is still relevant today.

Pals Margaret Atwood and Dennis Lee collaborated on several pieces of literary satire under the name “Shakesbeat Latweed” for the Acta Victoriana literary magazine, while students at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. Their careers as CanLit icons would last longer than their pseudonym, which nonetheless lingered on at the magazine for a few years after they departed.

Thomas King

Thomas King

In 2003, Thomas King became the first aboriginal Massey Lecture presenter in the prestigious series’ 54-year history.