Known as the “Queen of CanLit,” Margaret Atwood remains a permanent fixture in Canada’s literary scene. Coast to coast, the country’s literary community is thriving. Among others, here are 10 Canadian authors who are notable not only for their literary brilliance but also for their vital roles in the country’s diverse socio-cultural landscapes.
Born in a small town in Ontario, Lawrence Hill (1957) is the author of nine books that include nonfiction and novels. He is most well known for his 2007 novel, The Book of Negroes, which, in addition to winning multiple awards and being published in at least 10 countries, has been adapted into a six-part television miniseries. Other notable works include his 2001 memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada and his 2013 CBC Massey Lecture series called Blood: The Stuff of Life. Volunteering in West African countries like Niger, Cameroon, and Mali, he established a fund named after his best-known character, Aminata, which supports programs for girls and women in Africa.
Born and raised in Calgary by Ghanaian immigrant parents, Esi Edugyan (1977) studied creative writing at the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University before publishing her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (2004). Despite garnering favorable reviews, she was unable to find a publisher for her second manuscript – and she even considered giving up on literary life altogether. After spending time as a writer-in-residence in Germany, she was inspired to write another novel: Half-Blood Blues (2011). Following the story of a mixed-race jazz musician who is abducted by the Nazis during WWII, Half-Blood Blues received numerous nominations and eventually won the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Raised in Ottawa and currently living in Toronto, André Alexis was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1957. First achieving success in Canadian theater, he has gone on to publish numerous novels and collections. His debut novel, Childhood (1997), won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and was a co-winner of the Trillium Award. Fifteen Dogs, his recent novel, won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize as well as the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards. The novel is the second of a five-part series exploring philosophical themes and universal truths through unusual narrative forms.
Eden Robinson (1968) is a novelist and short story writer from Haisla First Nation, in British Columbia. Her acclaimed second book, Monkey Beach (2000), is set in Kitamaat territory and follows a teenaged girl’s retrospective search for answers about her younger brother’s disappearance at sea. It was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award and received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. She is known for her almost Gothic-style fiction that explores humanity’s darkest instincts with a good dose of black humor, making connections between colonialism and contemporary pop culture.
Montreal-based French-Canadian poet, novelist, and essayist Nicole Brossard (1943) is a prolific writer known for her strong and influential literary activism. She writes against patriarchal limitations on women’s voices, and her life’s work has been recognized by the Canada Council’s Molson Arts Prize (2006). Among other accolades, she has won Canada’s Governor General Prize for poetry twice, once for Mécanique Jongluese in 1974 and again for Double Impression in 1984. Among her most celebrated works is Le desert mauve (Mauve Desert), first published in 1987 and translated into English in 1990.
Born in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Zoe Whittall (1976) has published four critically acclaimed novels and three collections of poetry. Her novel Holding Still for as Long as Possible (2010) won the Lambda Literary Award for Trans Fiction, was a Stonewall Book Award Honor Book, and was also shortlisted for the ReLit Award. Bottle Rocket Hearts (2007) won the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie grant, was one of CBC’s Canada Reads Top 10 Most Important Books of the Decade, and named a Best Book of the Year by The Globe & Mail. Currently living in Toronto, she works as a freelance journalist and TV writer.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Toronto-based poet, novelist, and essayist Dionne Brand (1953) was Toronto’s third Poet Laureate from 2009-2012. Her work explores themes of race, gender, sexuality, and feminism, with an intense engagement with social justice issues that are also reflected in the numerous documentaries that she has produced. Her novel What We All Long For (2005) follows the stories of four young people in Toronto, creating a dynamic portrait of the city’s multiculturalism.
Born in California in 1943, writer and broadcaster Thomas King moved to Canada in 1980. Often exploring North American indigenous experiences, the writing style of his novels, children’s books, and short stories blends oral storytelling techniques with traditional Western narration. Notable works include the 1993 novel Green Grass, Running Water and his 2003 CBC Massey Lecture series called The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. A Member of the Order of Canada and two-time nominee for the Governor General’s Award, King also works actively to promote native rights both in Canada and the United States.
Born in Vancouver, novelist Madeleine Thien (1974) has produced novels, short stories, literary criticism, essays, and multimedia work. Thien was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers in 1999, and in 2001, she received the Canadian Authors Association Air Canada Award for most promising Canadian writer under the age of 30. Her most recent novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016), won both the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction and the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Margaret Laurence (1926-1987) wrote both adult and children’s literature. Born in the Canadian prairies, she is best known for her novels The Stone Angel (1964), a series of overlapping narratives involving a 90-year-old woman facing death while reflecting on her life, and The Diviners (1974), which explores rural women’s lives in the 1970s. During her adult life, Laurence lived in England and the British colony of the Gold Coast, in Africa. Her experiences in colonial and post-colonial settings came to influence her writing, to the extent that she recorded, translated, and published a collection of regional oral histories called A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose.