Defining the “Canadian” in the Canadian Voice

What is Canadian literature? What is a Canadian novel? I am not going to be so foolhardy as to attempt to define these terms; many have wandered into this wildernessand returned, what else but bewildered if they were honest, or with simplistic or outdated notions if they were naive; this is hardly surprisingthe country is changing around us even as we speak, stirring up a host of conflicting ideas and interests, and to look for an essence, a core, a central notion within that whirlwind is surely an illusion. To define this country or its literature seems like putting a finger on Zenos arrow: no sooner do you think you have done it than it has moved on.
    M. G. Vassanji, “Am I a Canadian Writer?”

Here at Five Rivers Publishing, we publish Canadian voices. This means here at Five Rivers we aspire to amplify the Canadian voice. If your throat is feeling a little scratchy, and you find yourself scratching the back of your head, going but what exactly do you mean by a Canadian voice? here are some thoughts thrown around by our authors to help you find that voice which is definitively Canadian!
Aaron Kite

Aaron Kite, author of A Touch of Poison, believes the Canadian voice is largely framed by our relationship with our neighbours to the south, the USA. Both moulding the English language to their message, the Canadian voice finds its distinction from something quite similar. Aaron further explains the majority of our passion regarding what it is to be Canadian has a great deal to do with attempting to define ourselves as different and distinct from our US counterparts, despite the pervasive influence their culture has had upon both us and the rest of the world.

Aaron also mentions being referred to as the 51st state is often times infuriating, and brings about Canadians sense of place in the world and our pride in our quiet, polite and fierce pride of all our achievements weve managed in our (relatively short) history. In a sense, Aaron regards the Canadian voice as an attempt to have a voice that can compete with our neighbours 10 times our population, and 100 times our global influence. 
Matt Hughes

Matt Hughes, Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Crime writer, puts forward the comments that the Canadian voice has a good focus on the setting: We’re said to be good at a “sense of place,” which is supposed to mean we can convey a strong impression of settings. Matt also finds we have a broader point of view, rather than be[ing] limited to our own cultural frame of reference. Perhaps that comes from the success of multiculturalism since the 1970s.

From a personal experience, my intercultural communications class  has demonstrated the very Canadian aim to be multiculturally inclusive rather than strive toward a cultural melting pot of our American counterparts.
Our multicultural nature has the beauty and fragility of a stained glass. Matt believes we have tendency to be less strident, more inclined to seek a balance among competing philosophies. We are less inclined to have a common agenda. Our heroes are do not fit perfectly with the conventionally heroic; instead we value a more nuanced, more prone to self-doubt individual. In turn our endings are not concrete triumphs, but an acceptance of outcomes that are mixed and muted.
John Poulsen

John Poulsen, author of Shakespeare for Readers Theatre, emphasizes the actively changing Canadian voice shaped by the changing Canadian cultural, emotional, and physical landscape. John asserts the Canadian voice, like its culture, cannot be simplified. He points out while Canadians are thoughtful and mostly caring to others, the Canadian game (hockey! How can we not talk about hockey when we are talking about Canada?) is rough and competitive. The Canadian voice is spirited and assertive as well as polite and giving, when appropriate. John also believes the Canadian voice is shaped by our seasons: The Canadian voice is built on summer and the Canadian parks. Finally, we are coloured by Autumn and the long hot days followed by chilly nights.

Mike Plested

Mike Plested, author of the Mik Murdoch series, opens with a quick quip about the discussion: I think pointing out what the characteristics of Canadian voice is almost as difficult as realizing that Canadians have accents. But Mike asserts the Canadian voice is rooted in the real. This realism means the Canadian voice acknowledges the dark places where there are no fairy dusts or happy endings, that not every problem has a good solution. Sometimes our stories give us solutions where we have to choose the least bad option. Mike believes this sentiment is rooted in our early days of exploration of our country including the pioneers who left everything behind to come to Canada to make a new life. It was reinforced by both World War I and World War II and all the other conflicts we have taken part in. The Canadian voice speaks more of what an individual needs to do rather than what we want to happen.

Mike also spoke of the regional differences in the intonations of the Canadian voice. He acknowledges that coming from the west, Alberta specifically, his writing has a more Wild West/Cowboy tone, while he found works from Ontario have a sense of age and political thinking, considering that is where our country really first came to life.
Susan Bohnet
Sally McBride

Susan Bohnet, author of My Life as a Troll, expresses that where you live impacts your literary voice. A succinct way of saying the Canadian voice reflects the Canadian culture. While Sally McBride, author of Indigo Time, emphasizes individualism I read what I read, my voice is my own, and I can appreciate all sorts of different styles and approaches to telling a story. Which reminds us the Canadian voice may emerge from cultural influences, but it has to be our own.

Lorina Stephens, author, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing, shares her strong belief Canadians have a distinctive voice and experience in the arts. She highlights the geographical influence such a large country has on our voice. She asserts that the enormous country sparsely populated has an effect on our psyche, that translates into a sense of isolation for many of Canadas people, particularly outside the few large urban regions. She also puts focus on the global stage, in that we are part of the G7, but it seems the world pretty much forgets about Canada as any sort of influence. So, that factor feeds into our sense of isolation.
Lorina Stephens

Canadas climate also shapes our voice. According to Lorina, the interesting and extreme weather reminds us that there is a necessity to work together in order to survive and survive well.

Lorina also talks about the Canadian heroic figure who deals with the struggle of the individual, championing the underdog, outrage against injustice, ambiguity in the face of implacable forces. Canadian authors dont deal with ultimate good versus evil. They deal with grey, with uncertainty, with small, ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, finding simple solutions and then slipping into the mainstream again. The heroics are low key, often unidentifiable. And that is such a very Canadian thing.
The Canadian voice is multicultural and in flux.
The Canadian voice speaks about the grey.
The Canadian voice speaks.
Is the scratchy throat gone, or do you want to let us hear what you think defines the Canadian voice? We love to hear your comments.
Or perhaps you want your Canadian voice to be heard? If so scuttle to this page here for Five Rivers Publishing submission guidelines for a turn on the mic. Submissions are welcome every February 1st to the 14th.

Were very excited to hear from you.