On Saturday, Dec. 2, literary lovers gathered at Munro’s Books to celebrate a new edition of Granta, the prestigious literary journal based out of the United Kingdom founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University. The special edition, titled Granta 141: Canada, is dedicated exclusively to Canadian literature and featured readings by UVic professors Tim Lilburn and D.W. Wilson.
It’s hard to imagine a more apt venue for the event, as the bookstore was originally opened by acclaimed Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro and her husband Jim in 1963, though the author hasn’t been connected to the establishment for decades.
The event occurred shortly after the Truck Light Convoy, and audience members entered the bookstore to the sound of truck horns fading down Douglas Street. The crowd mingled prior to the presentation, browsing books and flipping through the new edition of Granta displayed in stacks around the store.
This special edition of the journal was guest edited by Canadian novelists Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux. In 2016, Thien was awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
In her introduction to Granta 141: Canada, Thien spoke with a gentleness about the process of gathering solicited work in January of this year. Along with her co-editor, Catherine Leroux, Thien spent five months reading submissions and trying to decide which work to include that would best represent Canadian literature. She described the process as trying to “gather something in your hands that’s changing shape as you hold it.”
The complete journal includes work from acclaimed Canadian writers such as Margaret Atwood, poets Karen Solie and Dionne Brand, as well as photo essays by Douglas Coupland and Rawi Hage. In the introduction to the collection, Thien and Leroux describe the importance of language as it “falls apart, twists, reformulates, shatters and revives itself.”
Shortly following the introduction, Thien introduced D.W. Wilson, who read an excerpt from his fiction piece In This Heart You Burn (included in the online edition of Granta 141: Canada). Poetry professor Tim Lilburn followed, reading a small collection of new poetry.
The evening closed with a discussion between Thien, Wilson, and Lilburn about the state of Canadian literature, examining the uniquely Canadian tendency to critique rather than to celebrate — something Thien noticed during her time spent reading submissions for the issue. In response, Lilburn proposed that our nature to critique ourselves in literature could be a result of becoming aware of our privilege of living on unceded land. Lilburn suggested that this knowledge is what creates a slow separation from the land on which Indigenous histories have knowingly been erased.
The discussion then opened up to the audience, expanding the lively conversation on writing about place and the land, the hallmark of Canadian literature — a fitting finish for an evening celebrating Canadian voices.
Granta 141: Canada is available online on the Granta website. The issue includes 28 pieces and works by over 40 different writers and translators in total, in print and online.