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Authors challenge the idea of a national literature

Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Anne Michaels, along with Britain’s Monica Ali and Ireland’s Joseph O’Neill, have contributed their thoughts on the idea of a national literature to The Atlantic‘s Fiction 2009 special issue, created in partnership with the Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity held in Toronto last month. The four essays, grouped under the title “Border Crossings,” discuss how globalization, immigration, and the internet have affected the concept of a national literature, and question whether the notion that books and authors belong only to one place can still exist.

In her essay “Reading Faust in Korean,” Michaels argues that the idea of a national literature is created by the reader who relates to the book in his or her own way, rather thanby the writer’s place of birth. Atwood, for her part, thinks that it’s impossible to place an author or a book into a single category. In her essay “The Beetle and the Teacup,” she writes:

Do you identify as a woman, or as a writer? I’ve been asked. A North American? A Torontonian? An environmentalist? A poet, or a novelist? As if we were so divisible.