Heroic leaps between genres. Wild and wonderful shifts between forms. As a child, Lucy Maud Montgomery set the standard of what could be accomplished by a masterful multi-genre writer. Her poems, novels, essays, and short stories were enthralling. I marvelled at how she moved between genres; how she seemed at home in whatever form she chose—how I felt at home in the whatever worlds she created. Since then, I’ve been chasing the dream: both in my own writing, and in the writing of others.
April 24th marks the 81st anniversary of Montgomery’s death, and this year, I wanted to pay tribute to her by celebrating other astounding multi-genre writers who are working their magic in CanLit today.
"It has not mattered much what anyone else thought. I will always try to catch and express a little of the immortal beauty and enchantment of the world into which I have sometimes been privileged to see for a moment." —Lucy Maud Montgomery
Nancy Jo Cullen is known for writing compelling fiction and poetry that’s firmly rooted in the everyday complexity of our lives with humour and clear-eyed beauty. Last year, her fourth collection of poems,Nothing Will Save Your Life, was published by Wolsak and Wynn. Her novel, The Western Alienation Merit Badge, was shortlisted for the Fred Kerner Book Award and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. As with her poetry, her prose sings with warmth, pluck, and shatteringly fresh insight that makes her work unforgettably poignant.
I love the unsparing beauty and power in the writing of poet and author Farzana Doctor. Her novel Seven was a Trillum Award Finalist and resounds as a devastatingly absorbing look at female genital mutilation. Her recent collection of poetry, You Still Look the Same, is similarly moving. The poems bubble with warmth and intensity as they explore getting older: the things and people and parts of ourselves we hold onto, and the parts we leave behind.
Paola Ferrante’s work is always magical. From her chapbook, The Dark Unwind, to her upcoming collection of short stories, Her Body Among Animals, Ferrante’s work stuns. Apples and wolves and the irresistible darkness of fables and fairytales entwine with real life—whatever "real" is. Ferrante’s dark slant forces us to reconsider it.
And there is such darkness in her work, but it’s a darkness that pops and shatters with clarity—with the irony and rhythmic insight of her language, which is a revolution in its refusal to be still; to do what is expected.
To my mind, rob mclennan is something of a CanLit institution, conducting seemingly innumerable interviews and writing reviews in addition to being a prolific writer of stylistically acrobatic and stunningly rangy poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. (Think over 24 full-length poetry collections, two collections of literary essays, a travel book, two novels, and a collection of short fiction.)
This fall, look for his newest poetry collection, World’s End, out with ARP Books.
Once, at a reading, while talking about how—as a younger writer—I was devoid of basic financial literacy and expected my artistic inspiration to somehow sustain me, writer , editor, and educator Canisia Lubrin quipped, “inspiration is vulgar”, which automatically made her a legend in my eyes. It’s this sort of unsparing beauty and soul-expanding insight that you can find in Lubrin’s writing.
She is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis, which was longlisted for the Gerald Lambert Award, the Pat Lowther Award and was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award. Her sophomore poetry book The Dyzgraphxstwon the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in the poetry category and the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her debut fiction, Code Noir—linked fictions that depart from the infamous real-life "Code Noir," a set of historical decrees originally passed in 1685 by King Louis XIV of France defining the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire—is forthcoming from in 2024.
I first became aware of Kim Fahner through her amazing work as the Ontario representative of the Writers Union of Canada, and later learned she was also the Poet Laureate of Sudbury for a number of years. But her work isn't limited to her gorgeously heartfelt poetry (most recently, Emptying the Ocean). Fahner has also written an abundance of rich, rangy, and moving works, including poetry, prose as well as plays which have been workshopped and performed at Sudbury Theatre Centre, in collaboration with Pat the Dog Theatre Creation, via both the PlayMine Script Reading Series and the PlaySmelter New Work Theatre Festival. Her plays include Sparrows Over Slag, Letters from the Man in the Moon, and All the Things I Draw.
Look for her first novel, The Donoghue Girl, which will be published in spring 2024.
George Elliot Clarke can draw you into the rumbling, grumbling, beautiful and bawdy undercurrent of the world —of unrecognized, untapped, unsung life—better than perhaps anyone, and I’ve been a huge fan of George Elliot Clarke since I first read Whylah Falls, many moons ago. Since then, I have devoured whatever of his poetry, prose, and literary criticism I could get my rapt and ready hands on. Most recently, I’m enamoured with his Canticlesseries—an epic poem that dives into and subverts the histories of the slave trade and colonials, rewrites scriptures from an oral and "African" or "Africadian" perspective, and in Canticles III, which I've just started reading, hones in on the specific history and bios associated with the creation of the African ("Africadian") Baptist Association of Nova Scotia.
The work of Kirby is, for me, defined by its ecstatic tenderness. Recently, I had the pleasure of witnessing Kirby's performance BEHOLD, which they wrote and adapted for stage from their most recent and unforgettably transient poetry collection, Poetry is Queer. Both the book and the performance moved me to laughter, tears, and profound, mind-bending moments of connection and love and electrifyingly heart-bursting “gay moments.”
One of the first books I read by Lauren Carter was her poetry collection, Following Sea. These gorgeous poems set the tone for the engrossing sort writing one can expect in all her work.
In her novel, This Has Nothing to Do With You, Carter draws you into the complicated, compelling and uncomfortably familiar lives of her characters and her poetic skill is evident in the stunning, subtle painting of landscapes, scenes and nuanced character psychology in this heart-expanding novel—qualities readers can also count on in her latest book, Places Like These, a collection of stunning short stories that offer a magnetic and clear-eyed examination of the times in our lives when we can say we’ve truly lived.
Multi-genre writer and visual artist, Manahil Bandukwala, shows an enthralling combination of compassion and fearlessness in her work. In addition to being the author of two poetry chapbooks, Paper Doll and Pipe Rose , she also recently published MONUMENT, an absorbing and extraordinary reawakening—and reframing—of the life of Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, who is almost exclusively known for being the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
Women Wide Awake is a book of poetry, storytelling, and sculpture, created by Bandukwala and her sister, Nimra, a visual artist and community arts facilitator.
The collection focuses specifically on stories from Sindh and Karachi, the province and city where the sisters grew up. The stories in this collection focus on women—their strength, bravery, resilience, and humility.
These artists also previously published a chapbook of figures and creatures from Pakistani folklore, encounter, in 2022.
David James Brock is a poet and playwright. My eldest daughter and I went to see his play, a million billion pieces (with music by Gareth Williams) at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto and were both captivated.
a million billion pieces tells the story of Pria and Theo—two sixteen-year-olds who meet online and both have genetic disorders that may (or may not) cause them to explode if they touch. Which is unfortunate because they really want to hook up. (Ah, youth.)
Brock has also published poetry (Everyone is CO2and Ten-Headed Alien), and is branching across mediums as well. He developed the story for Fucked Up's Year of the Horse (2021), which is an opera, record, and (soon-to-be) a film(you can currently check out the LP from Tankcrimes Records) and he co-wrote Mother of All Shows (2023)—a feature film he wrote with Melissa D'Agostino starring Wendie Mallick and Melissa herself. Look for it in July, 2023.
I fell in love with Shani Mootoo's writing when I first read her lyrically stunning 1996 breakthrough novel, Cereus Blooms at Night, which was a finalist for the Giller Prize and Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Unsurprisingly, Mootoo is also an accomplished poet, whose latest release is the 2022 collection Cane | Fire. She has an astonishing ability to refocus the everyday: her ability to hone in on often overlooked details—to immerse and position the reader intimately and sometimes, uncomfortably, within her work. Mootoo shows how some of the most unforgettable worlds can be built out of the smallest, most unassuming particulars.
Hollay Ghadery is an award-winning author who’s published a wild and rangy array of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Fuse, her acclaimed memoir of mixed-race identity and mental illness, was published by Guernica Editions in 2021. It has been described as a “gripping testimony about the toll of split allegiances, gendered double binds, and conflicting cultural expectations.” (Sylvie Vranckx, Canadian Literature, August 23, 2022).
Her debut collection of poetry, Rebellion Box, is being released this spring 2023 with Radiant Press and stands as an irreverent cry against forces that seek to define and control us. “Lush and caustic, velvet and thoughtful, multi-genre writer Hollay Ghadery’s debut poetry collection is a study in contrasts, from the most minute domestic dilations of time to the happenings of cosmic heavens.” (Margo LaPierre, author of Washing Off the Racoon Eyes.) The title poem of Ghadery’s collection won The New Quarterly’s 2022 Nick Blatchford Award for Occasional Verse.
In spring 2024, Ghadery’s collection of short fiction, Widow Fantasies, which explores the ways in which women use and subvert fantasy to escape the constraints of their everyday lives, is set to be released by Gordon Hill Press.
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