Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Canada's Next Top Writer

Michelle Olsen has an article in the National Post...It's a bullshit article. But she traces an obscure online writing contest to the bright lights, big city concept of Canada's Next Top Writer. That'd be a reality show--based on the Next Top Model franchise--that would pit Canada's best aspiring writers against each other in a battle to be named the next Michael Winter/Lisa Moore.

It's a good idea, but let's consider how I found the Olsen story: It was linked to this post. Oh, I get a laugh out of that. Ask a hundred Canadians to name one Canadian writer, and half'll end up telling you, "Oh...You know...The one on the broom."

Although, as a PhD candidate who focuses on Canadian literature, I'm not supposed to buy the story that the CanLit scene is throttled by a few elites who control the content/form of Canadian fiction...Jesus Christ, it's true.

And let me tell you something else: Those elites went camping last year. They went way up north, set up at their site, and realized that they'd forgotten to bring matches or a lighter. Well, they needed a fire. There was no question about that. One took out a wooden dildo and dropped her pants. Within two minutes they were spit-roasting an elk.

And I'm not Everyman; I've actually met these people. I could tell you stories about Douglas Gibson's tenure at M&S that would piss you off to no end. Do people really think that Canada doesn't have its John Irving--a guy who, if he isn't the greatest stylist, can actually tell a story that people'll enjoy reading? Canadian Irving exists, but he didn't go to school with John Metcalf's daughter. I promise you that you'll never read his name in print.

This conversation inevitably gets back to Mordecai Richler, who was really our best "popular" writer. Richler's first two books weren't good enough for an extended "It's a Small World" cruise, yet he somehow managed to get his later, better works in print. Though I wouldn't want to make any wild guesses, it seems increasingly likely that he, at one point, blew Jack McClelland. In my scenario McClelland, who must have had either a small or crooked penis, publishes Richler as part of some blackmail programme. How else do you explain how and why M&S turned down Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, yet broke their arms securing the rights to Leonard Gulben's The White, White Canoe of Churchill, Manitoba: A Comedy?

The Canadian writing business is funny. People don't read Canadian writing; I just met an American PhD who couldn't name a Canadian author. I said, "Atwood?" and she gave me a blank stare.

"Who's Atwood?" she asked.

"A very famous--The most famous Canadian writer."

"Is she any good?"

"Better than Michael Chabon's sister."

But, fuck it, let's consider Olsen's idea for a minute. We've got five Canadian writers looking to win a publishing deal with a Canadian house. What do they look like? They're all thin, all dressed in corduroy. Hopefully none writes about ninjas or vampires. We put them in a room and tell them to come up with a story based on the sentence, "The lamb lies in the tall grass."

Two hours later we open the door. In marches Atwood. She reads the five entries, then exits the room. The door is shut, locked from the outside, and a guard turns on the "showers."

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