Saskatchewan History review

Saskatchewan History magazine
Reviewed by: Lisa Long

  Written by Lisa Long, this review was originally published in Saskatchewan History, Fall-Winter 2013, and is republished here with permission

This first volume of David Carpenter’s projected two-volume anthology, The Literary History of Saskatchewan Volume I ~ Beginnings, contains fifteen chapters that trace the development of Saskatchewan’s written heritage.  Beginning with the Cree tradition of storytelling, and its development into a written tradition after contact with settlers, the anthology goes on to provide a comprehensive introduction to Saskatchewan’s literary culture and past, from the writings of the early traders and missionaries, to the innovative poetry of the Moose Jaw Movement, and from playwrights to non-fiction writers.  Touching on a wide variety of genres and periods from the perspectives of a diverse group of essayists, Carpenter’s anthology offers something for Saskatchewan literature enthusiasts of all types.

The first part of the anthology examines literature in Saskatchewan more or less chronologically from the pre-contact era until the 1950s; these essays are formal and academic.  Well-researched and informative, they highlight several key authors of the era and give a brief introduction to their major works.  Because many of the writers in this section will be unfamiliar to contemporary readers, the scholarly style of these essays provides a breadth of historical context and detailed references that will help readers further explore the subject.  Several important authors, such as Edward Ahenakew and Sinclair Ross, are examined in more than one essay, offering valuable divergent perspectives on their work.  The latter part of the anthology devotes a great deal of attention to the literary boom in Saskatchewan after the 1960s.  These essays are more intimate, often written in the first-person by authors who participated in the movements; in their reminiscences, the reader experiences the excitement of the times and events.  Throughout the anthology, the essays are concise, offering introductions that will inspire readers to further explore those topics which are of interest to them.

            While the creativity and importance of established Saskatchewan authors is emphasized throughout the book, opportunities for aspiring writers in the province are also highlighted.  In the anthology’s final chapter, “Eminent Migrants and the Community,” Martin Winquist discusses writers who have chosen to live and work in Saskatchewan.  Winquistillustrates that this province’s arts community differs from larger centres because in Saskatchewan, artists depend on each other to succeed; this creates a co-operative rather than a competitive environment that makes this province a unique place to launch an artistic practice.  Several of the essays build to Windquist’s last word in the anthology by recognizing the development of literature-based organizations in the province; as writers became determined to develop a strong artistic presence in Saskatchewan, organizations such as the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, the Sage Hill Writing Experience, Coteau Books, Thistledown Press and myriad others blossomed.  The essayists’ interest in the development of these organizations presents the essential and thriving relationship between the literary and business communities.  More than explorations of Saskatchewan’s past, these discussions inform young writers of established opportunities in the province and invite them to get involved in today’s dynamic literary community.

      In the anthology’s foreword, Carpenter states that this book is intended for all audiences: writers and readers, university professors and high school students.  True to his word, the anthology offers historical analysis for the academic, inspiration for the reader, and encouragement for the aspiring writer.  Volume II of this anthology, which will focus on genre in the late 20th century, will be highly anticipated.  The Literary History of Saskatchewan is time well-spent for anyone with an interest in learning about Saskatchewan.  

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