Irish-born Linda Leith has lived in several international cultural capitals, but Montreal became her home and, in many ways, her muse. Leith’s latest book is Writing in the Time of Nationalism: From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis (Signature Editions).
How has Anglo-Quebec writing influenced CanLit?
Anglo-Quebec writing has long had a huge impact, dating from what may be the beginning of Canadian literature in the 18th century, but especially in the 20th century with the modernist poets – A.J.M. Smith, A.M. Klein, P.K. Page, Irving Layton, et al. – and the emergence of the great fiction writers of the 1940s, ’50s, and into the ’60s: Hugh MacLennan, Gwethalyn Graham, Mavis Gallant, Mordecai Richler, and Leonard Cohen.
So many writers of the mid–20th century spent time in Montreal – it was very much a hub of literary activity. That changed after about the mid-’60s, but we’re in the midst of a resurgence right now. How much impact this new generation of writers will have depends a lot on things – this renaissance seems to be in full flight and there’s no sign of it letting up. When the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist appeared last fall, I think people were amazed by how many Montreal writers were on it.
Who are some of the significant writers of this generation?
Certainly Anne Carson, a genre-bending poet veering to fiction, is one of the major figures. Yann Martel was there at the beginning. He moved from being a Montreal writer of talent to an international megastar. Rawi Hage did the same thing a couple years later with his IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for De Niro’s Game. Louise Penny has had a remarkable impact with her crime fiction.
There are also non-fiction writers making their marks internationally. I would hesitantly name my own son – Adam Leith Gollner – Taras Grescoe, and Mark Abley, among others.
Why is Montreal so mythologized in CanLit?
In an ethereal way, Montreal has a mystique that people from across Canada and internationally are aware of. But on a practical, down-to-earth level, it is also an affordable city with four universities that is a magnet for talented young people.
This story appeared in Q&Q’s 80th anniversary feature in the April 2015 print issue.