1. I bumped into numerous web “shares” of Miriam Toews’ keynote speech at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Toronto on “Is there such a thing as a national literature?” but want to lodge it here as well because I think she’s making such an important point, familiar as it may seem: “A writer can only serve her nation [or other ‘nationalisms’] by serving her story.” Toews began by talking about “national literature” from the perspective of people’s curiosity about her as “Mennonite writer,” but in both Canadian and Mennonite — and probably in any category concerning identity to which we belong — there are expectations and wishes by other members of those groups or identities about how they wish to be portrayed. This is as true for her from secular Mennonites as conservative ones, Toews said. Group authorities and narratives promise “certainties and definitions and boundaries,” but “[t]he imagination is inherently subversive and cannot be mandated.”
Not, I think, that one sets out to be subversive either. Or not-subversive. Any writer’s story, I think, will emerge in some way that reflects upon who she is in her various identities, and so she may end up under some banner like Canadian or Mennonite or feminist or something-or-other literature, but whether it’s good enough Canadian or Mennonite or etc. etc. is very much going to depend on who’s reading or creating the definitions. In the meanwhile, let’s think story instead: the story that must be served in the writer’s particular way.
2. And speaking of story, this today from friend and writer Elsie Neufeld on what stories do to our brains in “The Science of Stories.” (Hint: good things.)
3. Poet Jonathan Ball has something interesting going on at his blog, which I’ve been meaning to link to earlier, but [usual excuses]. He asks someone “What are you working on right now ___?” and posts the answer. That person is invited to suggest someone they’d be interested to have answer the question and so on. So, for example, here’s what a few people whom I happen to know — Sally Ito, Carrie Snyder, Victor Enns, and me — have recently answered. And there’s others you may know and other good stuff about Jonathan’s work and commentary on poetry too.
4. I probably over-used the word “good” in this post.