What are Canadianists in our department doing?

Handout photo  of Pauline Johnson. PNG photo files
Following the blog post “What are Americanists in our department doing?” it made sense to follow up with other research clusters and find out just what is happening. I thought I should start with the Canadianists, and will admit to being surprised about the variety of places they are taking or locating Canadian Literature. Read on to find out more. –JLH

For the past few months, Veronica Austen has been completing a side-project regarding representations of eating in narratives of the Zong massacre. The Zong massacre occurred in 1781 when a ship’s captain ordered the jettison of approximately 132 enslaved men, women, and children thanks to what was argued to be a shortage of supplies. Using the three key literary representations – Dabydeen’s “Turner,” D’Aguiar’s Feeding the Ghosts, and Philip’s Zong! – of the massacre, Veronica has been exploring acts of eating as measures of power. This little “side-project” – what was to have been one little paper — has grown into two . . . and we’ll see if it becomes any further the monster that devoured Las Vegas. Otherwise, Veronica has also recently completed a paper on Jann Arden’s American Dream for a collection of essays regarding Canadian music and American culture (Ed. Tristanne Connolly and Tomoyuki Iino) and is readying an Insight Development Grant application for her (non-side- (-:) project that studies intersections between the visual arts and literature. This project explores work by such contemporary Canadian writers as George Elliott Clarke, Roy Kiyooka, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Kim Barry Brunhuber, Dionne Brand to consider how visual art, either as theme or as visually present in a multi-modal literary form, functions as an element through which matters of identity, trauma, and/or loss are negotiated.

Shelley Hulan is designing a new section on orality for the course “Early Canadian Literatures” (English 313, scheduled for Winter 2016). Orality has always been part of the course via, for instance, excerpts from Saukamapee’s Life Among the Piegans and other early nineteenth-century accounts and stories first relayed verbally rather than in writing. But orality also weaves a fascinating pattern throughout Canadian literature before World War I, present for example in E. Pauline Johnson’s work, which often describes the act of receiving orally-told tales that she later commits to print. And then there is Interior Salish storyteller Harry Robinson, an important influence on the novelist Thomas King. He lived in the late twentieth century but told historical stories handed down from the early nineteenth century. Those stories will be included in the course, and will be part of a discussion about what exactly “early” Canadian literature is in a nation with strong oral literature traditions and how scholars might address that question.

I’m also thinking about theatre in Raj-era Kolkata and Shimla, India, where Canadian novelist Sara Jeannette Duncan lived and worked and wrote about this phenomenon. Theatre was huge in the Raj capital across all populations. Amateur theatre was especially loved by the British, which gave rise to the odd, and no doubt worrisome, spectacle of imperial British army officers performing the latest European dramas for an audience that was often White but sometimes multiracial: What did such audiences make of power literally staged in this way?

Heather Smyth is researching the ways that social justice commitments in Canadian literature can affect both the kinds of literature produced, and also the ways that it is produced–collaborative authorship, editorial collectives, coalitions and caucuses within arts organizations, online open-authored poetry, and public outreach creative projects, for example. This emphasis on ‘working together’ helps direct our attention to an ethics of relationship, care, and community that underlies some strands of Canadian literature–including the hard work of addressing structural inequality and privilege that attends social justice organizing.

Linda Warley’s research focuses on life writing in Canada. She and her co-editor Candida Rifkind (University of Winnipeg) are currently putting the finishing touches on their new collection of essays, Canadian Graphic: Picturing Life Narratives, which will be published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press next year. This book includes chapters by three University of Waterloo English doctoral alumni: Kathleen Venema, J. Andrew Deman and Kevin Ziegler. Clearly UW English produces scholars on the cutting edge of comics scholarship!

Her other research project is a work of autoethnograpy. She is researching her mother’s experience as a German child refugee in 1945 and how her mother’s stories have become part of her own identity. Her mother was just one of millions of German nationals who fled or were expelled from their homes in the chaotic final months of the war. This research took her to Poland earlier this year. It has also led to her involvement with the oral history project being conducted by the Waterloo Centre for German Studies. She is co-authoring a chapter on “Family and Children” for the book that will emerge from this project, Germans of the Waterloo Region.


Winfried (Win) Siemerling just published his new study on black Canadian writing, The Black Atlantic Reconsidered: Black Canadian Writing, Cultural History, and the Presence of the Past (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015), and then followed up with a companion website, www.blackatlantic.ca, which gives access to background and related materials to a wider public. He now has received a grant to study more specifically how some black texts, films, and musics seek to appeal to audiences in order to produce certain effects, and how reader/ audience response might be theorized in such cases. This problematic will also be one of the subjects of his graduate course in Winter 2016, “Black Canadian Writing, Audience, and the Presence of the Past.” Other than that, he just finished an anthology introduction to a story by Lawrence Hill, and an article entitled “New Ecologies of the Real: Non-Simultaneity and Canadian Literature(s).”


One response to “What are Canadianists in our department doing?

  1. Sounds very interesting–looking forward to the fruits of our Canadianists’ research. Thank you

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