What no one has mentioned yet: UPDATED
The second half of Alex Good’s and my Afterword piece is up, this time focusing on writers we feel have been unjustly neglected:
We chose also to focus on underrated authors because it’s important to bear in mind that there is a huge wealth of worthwhile literature being written in this country. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it flies under the radar due to limited marketing budgets, the increasingly poisonous blockbuster mentality that is infecting publishing, and an overwhelming number of books being published. With such a deluge of material, consumers need guidance; where better to look than award winners and well-regarded books? But, the overinflation of certain reputations tends to crowd out others that are equally (if not infinitely more) worthy of attention.
With one exception, the authors on this list don’t have the same recognition factor as those on the previous list (and the one exception is notorious for all the wrong reasons). However, while they are heterogeneous in style, subject, and approach, they share in common a vivacity and willingness to push the boundaries of language and form. And they make reading a joy, not a chore, which is something sorely lacking from much of our fiction these days.
As with the first half, the criticisms came fast and furious. The authors are all old(er). Many of them were discovered and/or edited by John Metcalf. There are no French Canadians. Many of them have appeared in Canadian Notes and Queries, a publication with which both Good and I are associated (which would kind of indicate that we admire them already, but never mind).
All perfectly true, but what strikes me – as struck me with the (much more predictable) criticisms yesterday – is that none of these things have anything to do with the books themselves. No one is suggesting that Ray Smith or Diane Schoemperlen are not proficient writers. No, it’s that they’re too old. Or too white. Or not French Canadian. All of which completely misses the point.
Yes, some of the writers are of a certain age. It strikes me that the older and more prolific a good writer gets without achieving recognition, the more claim that person has to being underrated. Yes, many of the writers on the list have been edited by John Metcalf. This only goes to prove how essential he has been in discovering the finest literary talent this country has seen in the past 40 years. It never ceases to amaze me that people want to attack him for this. He should be praised, not vilified. (And, on the subject of proving André Alexis correct, which is another criticism that has been lobbed at us, I would point out that Alexis was writing about Metcalf the critic, not Metcalf the editor.)
But the bottom line is that when we set out to create this list, we really didn’t take into consideration anything other than the quality of a given author’s writing. Call us crazy. We did not set out to make a political statement, to keep or lose friends (although that may indeed be an unintended consequence of this little endeavour), or to boost egos. We set out to highlight what we authentically feel is some of the best and least heralded writing in this country. The fact that no one is commenting on the writing itself is indicative of how unfamiliar it actually is, which kind of proves our point.
UPDATE: Over at Sans Everything, Jeet Heer (one of the best literary critics this country has) makes a very good point:
I think the accolade “underrated” should more properly given to writers who have composed excellent stories and novels but whose names are unknown even to most readers of quality literature. I’m thinking here of K.D. Miller, Mike Barnes, Mary Borsky, Cynthia Flood, Ann Copeland, and Terry Griggs. They’ve all written first rate fiction, yet their names barely register in literary discussions. Any list of underrated Canadian writers should include them. If I were doing the list, I would have taken out writers like Smith and Glover, who are superb but get widely reviewed and discussed, to make room for K.D. Miller and company.
I (we?) stand by the inclusion of Smith and Glover, but nevertheless acknowledge the fact that the list of underrated Canadian writers could, conceivably, go on and on.