By C.J. Zvanitajs
Canada has lost many literary luminaries over the years, including authors, playwrights, and poets. Some of the authors featured in this blog challenge were trailblazers in Canadian publishing, while others were champions who wanted to provide a voice for those in our society who were marginalized or forgotten. What better way to honour the accomplishments of these amazing Canadians and their literary legacies than by picking up one of their books? Let their stories continue to inspire us and touch our hearts.
Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk (1931 – 2007) was a Canadian Inuk author who wrote one of the first Inuktitut language novels, Sanaaq. Mitiarjuk was known for her commitment to sharing knowledge and preserving the Inuit culture. In 2004, she was named a Member of the Order of Canada. Published in 1984, Sanaaq is written using Inuktitut syllabics and is considered iconic in Inuit communities throughout the Canadian Arctic. Composed in 48 vignettes, the story follows an Inuit widow and her daughter facing changes to a Northern Quebec community when Europeans arrive. A French translation of the novel was published in 2002, with an English version published in 2014.
Wayson Choy (1939 – 2019) was considered a pioneer of both Asian Canadian and LGBTQ literature, as one of Canada’s first openly gay authors of colour. He was the author of two novels, two memoirs and numerous short stories. Wayson taught writing at Humber College, as well as the Humber School for Writers, and served as president of the Cahoots Theatre Company. We recommend his novel The Jade Peony which won the Trillium Book Award and the City of Vancouver Book Award in 1995. Set in Vancouver’s Chinatown during the 1930s and 1940s, the book features stories by three siblings, and explores how Japanese people were treated by both the Chinese and Canadians following the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Priscilla Uppal (1974 – 2018) was a poet, novelist, and playwright based in Toronto, Ontario. As a professor in the Department of English at York University in Toronto, she taught literature and creative writing. In 2007, her book of poetry Ontological Necessities was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Priscilla had the honour to serve as the Olympic poet-in-residence at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament in 2011, and the 2012 London Summer Olympics. In 2016, she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Priscilla’s short story collection, Cover Before Striking, was published in 2015 by Dundurn Press.
A distinguished literary voice and champion of black rights in Canada, Austin Clarke (1934 – 2016) was a Toronto-based author of many novels, short stories, poetry and essays. He received a large number of awards for his writing, including numerous lifetime recognitions. In addition to author, Austin was a journalist, teacher, cultural attaché and general manager of a media company. In 1998, he became a Member of the Order of Canada. We recommend The Polished Hoe which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2002, and the 2003 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Best Book (Canada and the Caribbean) and Trillium Book Award. Taking place on a post-colonial West Indian island, a young woman confesses to a murder. Over the course of 24 hours the tragic events of her life as a slave leading up to the murder are revealed, putting the past and present on an unavoidable collision course.