Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

The Literary History of Alberta, Volume Two: From the End of the War to the End of the Century

by George Melnyk

The Literary History of Alberta, Volume Two offers an authoritative and balanced history of the Alberta literary and publishing world. Calgary writer and historian George Melnyk chronicles the recent past with a scholar’s caution, as his own literary life fits into this period and many authors mentioned are acquaintances and friends. In this, as in any history, he writes, “fact always sleeps with interpretation.”

Melnyk’s interpretation highlights Alberta’s growing confidence and influence on the national and international literary stage. Over time, the Eurocentric, white, agrarian flavour of 1947’s breakthrough novel Who Has Seen the Wind yields to a far more diverse identity, one more aware of aboriginal writing in particular. Proceeding by genre, Melnyk tracks the progress of the novel, short story, poem, and play into the 1980s. Non-fiction and scholarship, popular fiction (including genre writing), and children’s literature all receive serious treatment, as do Alberta book culture and writers in languages other than English, like Parisian expat Nancy Huston, and David Albahari, recently arrived from Belgrade. A final chapter on writers of the 1990s allows the book to present figures such as Brad Fraser, Karen Connelly, Hiromi Goto, and Thomas Wharton. To be eligible for inclusion, writers had to have resided in the province and somehow have related their work to Alberta.

Melnyk’s prose is lucid and measured, abounds in apt images, and has sparks of passion. Only a burgeoning oral-poetry culture apparently escapes his notice – perhaps it’s too recent a thing. Illustrated with photographs, documented with 35 pages of references, and thoroughly indexed, the volume draws an accessible, revealing map of literary terrain that has nourished writers as varied as Joy Kogawa and W.P. Kinsella, Thomas King and Pauline Gedge.