Leisure reading is a great way to unplug, relax, and support artists in the process. While there’s a great and beautiful legacy of Canadian literature from the twentieth century that many of us are familiar with — I know you all watched The Handmaid’s Tale — there are also so many talented writers in Canada that you may not know about, many of them here in Alberta.
1) Billy-Ray Belcourt
Belcourt’s first book, This Wound Is A World, won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize (kind of like the Oscars of Canadian poetry), and for good reason. His work is accessible in its straightforward language, without sacrificing depth or beauty. He explores themes of queerness, Indigeneity, decolonization, and relationships in his raw, visceral poems. His upcoming collection, NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes From The Field, will adopt an “anthropological” view of Indigenous life in Canada. The book is at once tongue-in-cheek and completely serious, and his work should be required reading for Canadians.
2) Alice Major
Major is based in Edmonton, where she is an established member of the literary community, having released 11 poetry collections and two young adult novels. Her recent work Welcome to the Anthropocene is a poet’s take on the climate crisis, which blends math and science with poetry to produce a beautiful and wondrous examination of the natural world and humanity’s devastating impact on it. While such an undertaking could easily be defeatist, Major’s collection retains a sense of hope and genuine love for humanity that makes her poetry a refreshing read in an era plagued by eco-anxiety and negative climate news.
3) Joshua Whitehead
Joshua Whitehead teaches in Calgary and is the author of a novel, Jonny Appleseed, and a collection of poetry, Full Metal Indigiqueer. He is a two-spirit member of Peguis First Nation. Jonny Appleseed was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction (basically the Grammys of LGBTQ+ Canadian literature). If that doesn’t convince you to check out his work, imagine a novel told in vignettes and fever-dreams by an empathetic protagonist who navigates his way through heart-wrenching relationships and deals with the repercussions of trauma from sexual assault, colonialization, and homophobia. It’s
4) Larissa Lai
The author of several novels and a seminal figure in the growth of queer Canadian literature. She spoke at Write Out West in 1997, one of Canada’s first-ever full-scale conferences of queer writers. Her work explores near-future dystopia informed by her Chinese heritage; her latest work, The Tiger Flu, is her first novel in 16 years and won a Lamba Literary Award in 2018. Its protagonists inhabit a terrifying, drug-buzzed world of regrowing organs, genetic mutation, epidemic illness, and corporate tyranny. I would try to explain the plot to you, but Lai’s mind is so wildly inventive that, though I read and loved the novel, I literally could not do it justice.
5) Marilyn Dumont
A professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, Marilyn Dumont is a Métis writer and scholar whose several collections have each earned at least one award. Her most recent collection, The Pemmican Eaters, is a poetic-historical examination of Metis culture and community during the Riel Resistance that uses beautiful imagery and language to expose challenging narratives. She combines metered and free-verse poems in a way that many poets today hesitate to do and mixes language describing natural beauty with the beauty of Métis handiwork, including beadwork and the Red River Cart. The collection forces the reader to reflect on what it means to represent history and community through writing.