Ethnic Literature | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ethnic Literature

In Canadian English, the term "ethnic" has been used to designate those immigrants who do not belong to Canada's founding European cultures: the Catholic French and the Protestant Anglo-Celtic.
Josef Skvorecky, writer
Skvorecky's work reflects his compassion for characters like exiles, lovers and artists, drawn from societies in constant flux (photo by Andrew Danson).

Ethnic Literature

In Canadian English, the term "ethnic" has been used to designate those immigrants who do not belong to Canada's founding European cultures: the Catholic French and the Protestant Anglo-Celtic. It also embraces the aboriginal inhabitants of Canada, the native Indian and Inuit who have stood distant and often alienated from Canadian society. Literature by ethnic writers or about ethnic experience has generally been regarded as outside the literary mainstream and has often been overlooked by scholars.

The expression "Canadian ethnic literature" is itself complex, dependent on combinations of such variables as the writer's ethnic identity, the language of writing or translation and the literary expression of ethnic themes. To be fair, a definition of Canadian ethnic literature must be comprehensive and include émigré writing, both in the nonofficial languages and in translation; literature by writers who perceive themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority and write from this perspective (usually in English or French); and works that deal with immigrant or ethnic experience but are not necessarily written by a member of the group portrayed.

The relationship between ethnic literature and mainstream writing is very much in flux. The latter is increasingly defined in the light of Canada's ethnic diversity. This can be seen in re-evaluations of the separate Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditions in mainstream writing; the recognition in English Canadian letters of Jewish writers; the increasing thematic significance of ethnicity in the works of contemporary writers; and the growing number of authors of ethnic descent who are making their mark on Canadian literature.

 The work of second and later generations of ethnic writers such as George RYGA, W.D. VALGARDSON, Rudy WIEBE, Andrew SUKNASKI and Pier Giorgio DI CICCO is permeating the mainstream sensibility; the work of émigré writers such as George Faludy, Josef SKVORECKY, Waclaw Iwaniuk and Robert Zend is becoming increasingly available in translation; and the work of new immigrants such as Kristjana Gunnars, Pablo Urbanyi and Cyril Dabydeen is becoming accessible as it receives critical acclaim.

Canadian literature was born of the colonial mentality of early immigrants from the British Isles and France. The earliest form of ethnic bias may be seen marginally in the period 1841-55, which is described by Carl F. Klinck in Literary History of Canada (2nd ed 1976) as that of "genteel colonialism." The period's prominent English-language writers desired to be English and aristocratic in every sense, not only in lifestyle but in language. Thus some objected to "uncivilized" Irish and Scottish pronunciations invading Canadian speech patterns.

Susanna MOODIE expressed a more blatant prejudice against the Irish in ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH (1852), calling the Irish "savages" without "common decency." Although British Canadian writers like Moodie may sometimes have perpetuated Old World prejudices against the "ethnic" Irish and Scots, the Anglo-Celtic community remained fundamentally united as a social and literary force.

A more deeply significant ethnic subject of early English Canadian literature was one who, ironically, most deserves not to be considered foreign: the native Indian. Yet no other group has been as persistently portrayed as "the other" in the white man's literary world, nor has any other "ethnic" group registered as strongly on the consciousness of writers. Whether the fictional aboriginal was depicted as the barbaric antagonist or the noble savage - in such early works as John RICHARDSON's gothic novel, WACOUSTA (1832), and the romantic poetry of Charles MAIR, Charles SANGSTER and Duncan Campbell SCOTT - he became a projection of the imaginative needs of colonial culture.

Even in late 20th-century works where the aboriginal is sympathetically drawn, he remains the "other" and thus a touchstone for white culture. In works such as George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1970) and W.O. MITCHELL'SThe Vanishing Point (1973), the aboriginal is a fitting vehicle through which to express dissent from white society. Nonetheless, contemporary writers such as Mitchell and Margaret LAURENCE portray with some realism, and a great deal of sympathy, the condition and status of the modern native peoples and the Métis.

Several writers, particularly in the West, have created fiction and poetry in which aboriginal mythology and perspectives shape literary forms or contribute to the definition of the artist, his contemporary characters and his region. These writers include John NEWLOVE, Dale Zieroth, Andy Suknaski, George BOWERING, Sheila WATSON, Robert KROETSCH, Susan MUSGRAVE, Leonard COHEN, Margaret ATWOOD and Marian ENGEL. Rudy Wiebe has made honest attempts to realize the native's point of view in his historical novels The Temptations of Big Bear (1973) and The Scorched-Wood People (1977).

If the legacy of British colonialism meant the literary interpretation of the aboriginal through the view of whites, it also meant that other ethnic groups were dimly seen. English Canadian literature, if it treated the ethnic as a subject at all, demonstrated less interest in ethnic character than in assimilation.

This is true of the work of Presbyterian minister Charles W. GORDON (pseudonym Ralph Connor) in the novel The Foreigner (1909), in which the protagonist, Kalmar Kalman, a "Slav," lives in the "foreign colony" of North Winnipeg of 1884. Ascribing to Kalman the stereotyped "Slavic" traits of exotic features and primitive passions, Connor "Canadianizes" and "civilizes" his hero by having him adopt the religion and moral values of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

The pressure to assimilate necessarily affected the ethnic person's view of himself and his people. A crisis of identity is particularly evident in those second-generation English-speaking ethnic writers who write of themselves in relation to their immigrant parents, eg, Ukrainian Canadian Vera Lysenko, in Yellow Boots (1954), and Hungarian Canadian John Marlyn, in Under the Ribs of Death (1957).

In more recent literature, the second-generation ethnic writer may express similar dislocation but does so with less shame and with a new authority and pride in ethnic roots, at the same time often protesting against racial discrimination or unfair treatment of ethnic minorities. Joy KOGAWA, for example, vindicates her Japanese Canadian people in OBASAN (1981).

Immigrant writers, too, can write with self-confidence about injustice. Bharati MUKHERJEE, an accomplished writer born in Calcutta, writes bitterly but with self-esteem of her unsatisfactory life in Canada, as both an Indian woman and an ethnic writer; Guyana-born Cyril Dabydeen records the hard ironies of being a black immigrant in Canada without relinquishing his self-respect. Assimilation continues to be problematic also for the characters in ethnic literature, but their authors are making increasingly bold pleas for equal rights and opportunities, and enjoying literary success.

Inuit Literature

The Inuit did not develop a written language; Christian missionaries introduced written Inuktitut early in the 18th century. Consequently the first Inuktitut literature consisted of translations of the Bible and other religious materials, to which secular classics were soon added. The first major scholarly sources of traditional Inuit poetry are Expedition - the Danish Ethnographical Expedition to Arctic North America, 1921-24 (1928-45, 1976), by Knud Rasmussen, and Songs of the Copper Eskimos (1925), collected by Helen Roberts and Diamond JENNESS. Among southern Canadians there has been a growing interest in Inuit literature. Drawing on the pioneering work of Rasmussen, Roberts and Jenness, others such as John Robert COLOMBO (Poems of the Inuit, 1981) have collected traditional Inuit literature.

Contemporary Inuit literature, published in both Inuktitut and English, includes important diaries and autobiographies such as Sketches of Labrador Life (1980) by Lydia Campbell. People from Our Side (1975), by Dorothy Eber and Peter PITSEOLAK, depicts, often humorously, recent Inuit culture shaped by contact with the North American mainstream.

Modern Inuit culture is depicted in darker tones by Anthony Apakark Thrasher in Thrasher: Skid Row Eskimo (1976). Recently a number of Inuktitut-English journals such as Inuit Today have published the work of contemporary Inuit writers. Both traditional and contemporary Inuit literature are included in Robin Gedalof's An Annotated Bibliography of Canadian Inuit Literature (1979).

Indian Literature

Native literature in Canada is rooted in the oral tradition of storytelling and includes all types of traditional narratives such as myths, legends, fairy tales, animal stories and fables (seeORAL LITERATURE). Such narratives have proven to be fascinating to white culture, beginning in the 17th century when Jesuit missionaries first recorded Huron and Algonquian tales in the JESUIT RELATIONS, and continuing into the 19th and 20th centuries when scores of anthropologists, folklorists and sociologists studied various tribes and recorded their FOLKLORE. Thus, there is a wealth of transcribed native legends and myths.

However, written translation has unavoidably lessened both the nuances and the oral impact of the narratives; the imposition of Christian value systems has altered aboriginal meanings; the tendency of folklorists to place native folklore in a European context of storytelling has often led to distorted interpretations; and the many aboriginal tales that deal, often humorously, with the body processes have been left out of anthologies because they have been unacceptable to white morality.

As a result of the early influence of white contact, a purely aboriginal tradition of native narrative is difficult to trace. Moreover, because the native peoples are not a homogenous cultural or linguistic group, the mythology as expressed in their narratives is vast and complex. Aboriginal storytelling also allowed the storyteller to invent and alter narratives as he pleased; thus there can be many variants of a story, although certain motifs and narrative patterns appear to be common (eg, the trickster figure as the source of creation).

Contemporary native authors are finding their own voice. Their writing includes rhetorical and political works, such as Harold CARDINAL'SThe Rebirth of Canada's Indians (1977) and Duke Redbird's We Are Métis (1980); retrospectives of the aboriginal way of life such as Potlatch (1969) by George CLUTESI of the Northwest Coast natives, These Mountains Are Our Sacred Places (1977) by Chief John SNOW of the Stoney and The Ways of My Grandmothers (1980) by Beverly Hungry Wolf of the Blood Tribe; autobiographies, biographies and memoirs such as Anahareo's Devil in Deerskins (1972); and creative literature including poetry, legend and drama, such as Norval MORRISSEAU's Ojibwa Legends of My People (1965) and Chief Dan GEORGE's poetic volume My Heart Soars (1974). A milestone in the recognition of aboriginal literature was the publication of the anthology I Am an Indian (1969), edited by non-native Kent Gooderham.

Acadian Literature

ACADIA first referred to the French Atlantic-seaboard colonies in the New World. In 1755, during the SEVEN YEARS' WAR, British authorities stripped the Acadians of their lands and rights and deported most of them. Some returned when French-English hostilities abated. The Acadian story first found sympathetic literary expression in T.C. HALIBURTON'sAn Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia (1829), which influenced American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write EVANGELINE (1847), a narrative poem of the expulsion. This romantic tale received international attention and inspired mainstream writers such as Charles G.D. ROBERTS to write fictional romances of Acadian history and induced Acadian writers themselves to express an Acadian consciousness.

The theme of cultural survival is synonymous with Acadian literature, which often celebrates a lost past, extols Acadian traditions and language, and protests past and present treatment. Since the publication of Napoléon Landry's Poèmes de mon pays (1949), Acadian literature has flourished; its impetus has come, in part, from the example of cultural nationalism in Québec, from the election in 1960 of the first Acadian premier of New Brunswick, L.J. ROBICHAUD, from the establishment in 1972 of the first publishing house in Acadia, les Éditions d'Acadie, and from the national and international recognition of Acadian writer Antonine MAILLET for such works as Pointe-aux-Coques (1958) and La Sagouine (1971; tr 1979). Notable modern Acadian writers include poets Ronald Després (Silences à nourrir de sang, 1958) and Raymond LeBlanc (Cri de terre, 1973).

Irish, Scottish and Welsh Literature

Some Scottish Irish from largely Protestant Ulster immigrated in the mid-18th century, as did SCOTS from Scotland. By the end of the century Scots were immigrating in droves, followed by many IRISH in the first decades of the 19th century and scores more with the potato famine of 1846-47. The greatest WELSH immigration coincided with economic depressions in Wales in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

These groups were integrated into the culture around them and their literature has been considered mainstream. Thomas D'Arcy MCGEE, for example, attempted to foster a national spirit in Canada through such works as his Canadian Ballads (1858), which were based on Irish ballad forms. Scotsman Alexander McLachlan was a popular poet who wrote such "Canadian" works as The Emigrant, and Other Poems (1861) in the tradition of Robert Burns.

Much scholarship remains to be done in assessing the nature of Irish and Scottish immigrant literature and in tracing the Irish and Scottish literary heritage from the colonial period until the present day, when such contemporary writers as Brian MOORE, Morley CALLAGHAN, Alice MUNRO and Margaret Laurence have continued to demonstrate an Irish or Scottish sensibility.

Many early Scottish settlers were Scottish Gaels (Highlanders) who brought with them to settlements in the Maritimes, Manitoba and parts of Ontario the Gaelic language and the ancient, oral, bardic tradition of songs, folktales and epic narratives. Gaelic poets, such as pioneer bards John McLean (who came to Nova Scotia in 1819) and Reverend Duncan Black Blair, have had little effect on mainstream literature, but their poetry has remained intact and is of interest to those who know the language, as Margaret MacDonell's translated edition, The Emigrant Experience (1982), bears witness.

Later Arrivals

Other immigrants who came later and settled primarily in the West brought both oral and written literary traditions, . One early group was the ICELANDERS, who came to Canada in the mid-1870s fleeing volcanic eruptions in their homeland. Despite their small numbers, they produced a notable body of literature in Canada. In Manitoba the new settlers quickly established newspapers, which became vehicles for lively debate as well as for creative writing. A number of writers, exemplified by Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson and Sigurbjorn Johannson, wrote poetry and stories in their native language but about the Canadian immigrant experience.

 The literary achievement of one pioneer, Stephán STEPHANSSON, was particularly remarkable. Though he was largely unknown to Canadians until recently, Stephansson received the title of poet laureate of Iceland on the strength of poems he composed in Canada. He profoundly revitalized the Icelandic language and tradition in which he wrote, while addressing the Canadian experience with insight and a freshness of imagery that are not altogether lost even in translations of his lyric poetry.

The pioneers were followed by a generation of writers who, though continuing to write in Icelandic and out of an essentially Icelandic tradition, addressed Canadian experience. Notable among them are Guttormur Guttormsson and Einar Pall Jonsson. Jonsson's well-known poem "The Laundress" captures the sense of loss engendered by assimilation. Like the work of numerous early ethnic writers, that of Stephansson, Guttormsson and Jonsson first became available to English-speaking Canadians through the efforts of Watson Kirkconnell, an English professor who translated and compiled collections of poetry in languages other than English and French, most notably his 1935 Canadian Overtones. Kirkconnell also wrote the "Publications in Other Languages" section of the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY from 1935 to 1966.

Caught between the remnants of the immigrant culture and the evolving mainstream, the ethnic writer of the second or third generation typically becomes a "mediator" between cultures. Icelandic Canadian writer Laura Goodman SALVERSON, in her romantic novel The Viking Heart (1923), tells the story of her people through fictional characters who gradually commit themselves to Canada and find acceptance here. In her more realistic autobiography, Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter (1939), she explores with some frankness the problems the immigrant family faces.

Some contemporary writers of Icelandic background, eg, W.D. Valgardson and recent immigrant Kristjana Gunnars, still explore Icelandic characters and themes. Valgardson's collections of short stories, Bloodflowers (1973), God is Not a Fish Inspector (1975) and Red Dust (1978), his book of poetry, In the Gutting Shed (1976), and his novel, Gentle Sinners (1980), present with stark clarity a dark vision of the interface between ethnicity and the postmodern world. In her poetry, particularly The Settlement Poems (1980), and in her book of short stories, The Axe's Edge (1983), Gunnars attempts to merge historical research and a poetic, almost mystical, vision to provide a narrative vehicle for the Icelandic Canadian experience.

Other Scandinavians have been present in Canadian literature as well, either as writers or as characters. Norwegian-born Martha Ostenso contributed to the emergence of realism in Canada through her prairie novel, Wild Geese (1925), which portrays an authoritarian farmer's impact on his wife and children.

German immigrant Frederick Philip GROVE brought naturalism to his treatment of Scandinavian immigrant characters in Settlers of the Marsh (1925), and Anglo-Canadian writer Nellie MCCLUNG presented a Finnish immigrant as her main character in Painted Fires (1925).

Danish-Norwegian writer Aksel Sandemose spent several years in the Maritimes and the western provinces, and wrote several novels dealing with the Canadian immigrant experience; perhaps the most notable is Ross Dane (1928), which is well known in Scandinavia.

Many Ukrainians came to Canada from eastern Europe after 1896, and they have produced a significant body of literature in Canada. Its evolution has been distinctive and complex, because of the Ukrainians' large numbers, their pioneer status in western Canada, their continuing immigration in significant numbers after WWII and the unique political history of their homeland.

Combined, these factors have fostered a vital émigré tradition that finds its ultimate raison d'être in the belief of many Ukrainian writers and intellectuals that Ukrainian is a legitimate Canadian language (albeit not an official one) and that the Ukrainian literary tradition can continue to develop in Canada (seeUKRAINIAN WRITING). A natural offshoot of this tradition has been writing in English by authors of Ukrainian background.

The writer best exemplifying the second-generation apologist's stance is Vera Lysenko, whose novel Yellow Boots tells the story of second-generation character Lili Landash, who assimilates into Anglo-Canadian culture through education and intermarriage. Other writers have been less willing to glorify the shedding of ethnic culture. George Ryga, for example, who does not directly fictionalize his own experience as the son of Ukrainian immigrants, nevertheless portrays ethnic characters from the inside while looking at Canadian society from the outsider's perspective, as in his play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1970) or his novels Hungry Hills (1963) and Ballad of a Stonepicker (1966). Andrew Suknaski, in Wood Mountain Poems (1976) and The Land They Gave Away (1982) attempts to create and give earthy expression to a personal mythology that embraces ethnicity and fuses it with Canadian experience.

GERMANS, Canada's third-largest ethnic group, settled in Canada as early as the 1750s and continue to do so. German Canadians have produced a significant body of literature, though it is difficult to generalize about it since the group is remarkably diverse. It includes, for example, Catholics and various ANABAPTIST sects (eg, MENNONITES) and secular immigrants from postwar Germany. In addition, Germans have settled throughout the country, though there are concentrations in Nova Scotia and Ontario and in the Prairie provinces. Their linguistic heritage is complex, including both High and Low German and a variety of dialects (seeGERMAN WRITING).

Jewish writing is perhaps the most impressive of Canada's ethnic literatures, despite the relatively small number of JEWS in Canada. Shaped by successive waves of immigration that began in the early 1890s, Jewish writing reflects a variety of cultural and linguistic influences. Most of the early immigrants spoke Yiddish; consequently, though some writers chose to write in Hebrew, Jewish Canadian literature before WWII was written primarily in Yiddish.

Jewish writers, principally those born in Canada, have also written in English. A.M. KLEIN, Irving LAYTON, Miriam WADDINGTON, Eli MANDEL and Mordecai RICHLER, as well as Fredelle Maynard, Morley Turgov and others, have so skilfully articulated Jewish experience in Canada that it has penetrated the mainstream sensibility, earning Jewish writing a major place in modern Canadian literature. Regardless of the language in which it is written, Jewish literature in Canada characteristically reflects an international vision, a minority sensibility and the profound influence of the WWII Holocaust (seeJEWISH WRITING).

A number of the other small European groups in Canada, most notably HUNGARIANS, CZECHS and ITALIANS, have also produced substantial bodies of literature; as well, significant works have appeared in Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Slovak, Croatian, Romanian, Russian and Spanish. Although the presence in Canada of a number of these groups dates back to the turn of the century, their literary activity has been most notable since WWII.

Postwar European immigrants, often fleeing political upheaval in their own countries, were generally educated, urban people, and included writers and intellectuals who revitalized the cultural life of the group in Canada. Toronto, which attracted a majority of postwar European immigrants, has become the major centre of émigré writing.

Hungarians came to Canada during the early waves of immigration primarily as farmers and miners. They produced some literature, such as the epic poem written in the early 1900s by John Szatmari in which he describes his immigrant experiences, and the 1919 collection of poetry by Hungarian Canadians, Mezel Viràgok (Prairie Flowers). But the Hungarian Canadians' most substantial literary achievement has been since WWII, as a result of the coming of age of second and subsequent generation writers such as John Marlyn, and in the work of postwar émigré writers, particularly those who fled Hungary after the uprising of 1956.

Many Hungarian émigré writers, particularly the older ones such as poets Ferenc Fay, Tamas Tuz, Robert Zend and George Faludy, continue to write in Hungarian, whereas younger writers such as George Jonas write in English (although Gyorgy Vitez and Kemenes Gefin also write in Hungarian). As Hungarian Canadian scholar John Miska points out, the Hungarian writer often wishes to be a "champion of freedom," and this "self-imposed crusading function" is reflected in the nationalistic, "heroic-emotional" tone of Hungarian Canadian poetry.

A number of these writers also deal with Canadian subjects, exploring the tensions of émigré marginality. In 1969, Hungarian Canadian writers formed an association which has published several anthologies in Hungarian and one in English translation, The Sound of Time (1974).

POLES have also had a literary presence in Canada. In his epic novel Three Generations (1973), Melchior Wànkowicz, who immigrated to Canada in 1950, depicts the life of early Polish immigrants. The most notable second-generation writer of Polish descent is poet and literary scholar Louis DUDEK, whose achievements are very much a part of the mainstream.

The postwar period brought to Canada writers such as poet Waclaw Iwaniuk. In his Ciemny Czas (1968; tr Dark Times, 1979) and most recently in his Evenings on Lake Ontario (1981) Iwaniuk explores, in tightly controlled verse and from both European and North American perspectives, the condition of contemporary man, but idealizes neither the Old World nor the New.

Postwar émigré writers from other European countries explore similar themes. Czech Canadian Josef Skvorecky was already a known literary figure before he immigrated to Canada following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He has published a number of books in Canada that have been translated into English, such as his novella The Bass Saxophone (1977) and The Engineer of Human Souls (1977; tr 1984).

Although Skvorecky's work has political overtones, it is preoccupied with the universal themes of the individual's fate in history and the importance of art. Also noteworthy as a postwar émigré who writes about WWII and its political aftermath is Estonian Arved Viirlaid, who came to Canada in 1954.

Postwar immigration also revitalized ITALIAN WRITING in Canada, and literary activity among Italians has burgeoned, particularly since 1970. As with other groups, this growth follows as the result of an infusion of immigrants and increasing educational levels and affluence in Canada, but, unlike Hungarians, Czechs and others displaced by the war and subsequent political events, the Italians are not political expatriates.

Most have come to find a better material life, and the old country remains at least partially accessible to them. Consequently, Italian Canadian writers, who most often write in English or French, are not preoccupied with European politics or a sense of exile. Rather, in the works of contemporary authors Frank PACI, Giorgio DI CICCO, Mary DI MICHELE and Alexandre Amprimoz, there is an attempt to balance material and spiritual values as the authors explore the price their parents, often labourers, paid for success in Canada.

Their writing, which expresses a cosmopolitan sensibility, explores the contrasts and connections between Italy and Canada, often fusing the authors' Italian and Canadian identities. Italians in Canada can also claim the "protean literary force," John Robert Colombo, whose translations and anthologies have been crucial to bringing the work of ethnic writers into the mainstream of Canadian literature.

Asian Canadian literature also came of age during the 1970s. Although CHINESE and JAPANESE Canadians have lived in Canada for over a century, the earlier waves of immigrants produced little significant literature. This is true for a variety of reasons, not the least being the discrimination and hard labour they faced. However, some literature from early immigrants does exist, such as the poetry of Japanese-born Takeo Nakano, who came to Canada in 1920. He published a number of poems, many in the traditional Japanese 31-syllable tanka, such as "My Hands" (which appears in English translation in Colombo's The Poets of Canada, 1978). Maple, an anthology of tanka poems by Nakano and other first-generation Japanese Canadians, was published in 1975. Nakano also wrote of his WWII INTERNMENT experience in Within the Barbed Wire Fence (1980).

The Chinese Canadian immigrant experience has been addressed by Charlie Jang, though his work has not yet been translated into English. In the 1970s, influenced by FRENCH CANADIAN NATIONALISM and by the Asian cultural revival that occurred in the US in the mid- and late 1960s in the wake of the black power movement, a number of young writers began to write about the Asian Canadian experience. These new writers, such as Roy KIYOOKA, Paul Yee and Kevin Irie, are preoccupied with the question of their identity as they articulate the experience of growing up as North Americans, albeit often with a second-class status, while being regarded by the predominantly white society as culturally "other."

Asian Canadian writers, perhaps most notably Joy Kogawa, are examining their roots, thus bringing the missing perspective to the standard interpretations of events. In addition, these writers often reject assimilation. Their work has appeared in the journals Asianadian and Rikka as well as in an issue of West Coast Review (1981).

Recent Arrivals

Since the 1970s ethnic literature has proliferated remarkably, largely because of the increased diversity of recent immigrants. Responding to the liberalization of Canada's immigration law in 1967, immigrants, most of them well educated and many of them members of visible minorities, have come from all parts of the globe. Just as they have changed and enriched Canadian society generally, they have also brought new dimensions to Canadian literature.

Now, in addition to belles lettres in the traditional European nonofficial languages, ethnic literature includes such work in languages previously considered exotic to Canadian culture. Moreover, in bringing the perspective of developing nations to their writing, the new immigrant writers have extended the landscape of Canadian literature, enriched its forms and broadened its concerns.

For example, working in several languages, including Punjabi, Urdu and English, contemporary SOUTH ASIAN writers in Canada such as Urdu poets Shaheen, Irfana Aziz and Abdul Qavi Zia; Pakistani short-story writer M. Athar Tahir; Indian short-story writer and novelist Rohinton MISTRY and novelist Reshard Gool; and Sri Lankan poet Rienzi Crusz depict in various ways the sharp contrasts between South Asian and Canadian life. Many of these writers, including M.G. Vassanji, publish in the Toronto South Asian Review.

West Indian writers in Canada also explore the tensions between "have" and "have-not" nations, and the racial and cultural hostilities that are the residue of British colonialism, as well as the problems faced by the visible immigrants in Canada. Perhaps the most distinguished is Austin Clarke, whose impressive body of fiction is set in both Barbados and Toronto, and includes a trilogy that in portraying West Indian immigrants reveals a deep undercurrent of racism in Canadian society. Younger West Indian writer Cyril Dabydeen explores similar themes in both poetry and prose.

Recent Canadian ethnic literature also includes the work of South American writers, the most substantial being that of the Chileans. With the exception of Ludwig Zeller, perhaps the best known of the Chilean writers through his iconoclastic poetry collected in In the Country of the Antipodes (1979), most are political REFUGEES, either having been forced to flee or having chosen to leave Chile following the 1973 coup d'état. Most, in the early 1980s, were relatively young, and went to Ontario, where they continued to write in Spanish. Among them are Jorge Etcheverry, Erik Martínez and Naín Nōmez, members of an avant-garde poetry movement known in Chile as the "Santiago School."

Their sophisticated poetry, which draws on both European and Chilean traditions of surrealism, is both political and personal. Though they are preoccupied with Chile, the émigrés also address Canadian experience, as do Gonzalo Millan, Manuel Arànguiz, Claudio Duràn, Ramōn Sepúlveda and José Leandro Urbina. An anthology, Chilean Literature in Canada, was published in 1982. The South American voice also includes the work of Argentinian writer Pablo Urbanyi, who came to Canada in 1977 and has since published a novel, The Nowhere Idea (1982), which comments on Canadian life.

Before 1970, for English-speaking Canadians, access to and information about ethnic writing in nonofficial languages were very limited. Kirkconnell's pioneering translations, collections and bibliographic work stood practically alone. In the 1970s and 1980s, partially as a result of the federal government's 1971 announcement of a policy of MULTICULTURALISM, several significant translations and anthologies of ethnic literature have been published, including Volvox (1971) and 2 translation issues of Canadian Fiction Magazine (1976, 1980), as well as a number of anthologies representative of particular groups. Scholarship in the field has also proliferated. The most ambitious bibliographic effort to date is John Miska's Ethnic and Native Canadian Literature 1850-1979 (1980).


The profile of Canadian ethnic literature is currently being strengthened both within and outside the country. Canadian ethnic writers today are receiving international acclaim: in the early 1980s, Jewish Canadian Irving Layton was nominated for the Nobel Prize; Japanese Canadian Joy Kogawa won 3 international awards, including the American Book Award for Obasan; and Czech Canadian Josef Skvorecky was awarded the Neustadt Prize for The Bass Saxophone, an honour which is generally considered a prerequisite for the Nobel Prize. These authors are celebrated for their art, but theirs is also a contribution to the history of the Canadian mosaic.

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