Thursday, February 01, 2007

This Is My Country, What's Yours?

As one shouldn’t visit the sins of the father upon the son, don’t blame Noah Richler for the unkind comments his father, Mordecai Richler, wrote about Edmonton back in the day. Way back in the day now. It was a New York Times piece in 1984 entitled “Gretzky in Eighty-Four” (collected in the book Belling the Cat: Essays, Reports & Opinions) that Richler père wrote:

The capital of Alberta is a city you come from, not a place to visit, unless you have relatives there or an interest in an oil well nearby. On first glance, and even on third, it seems not so much a city as a jumble of a used-building lot, where the spare office towers and box-shaped apartment buildings and cinder block motels discarded in the construction of real cities have been abandoned to waste away in the cruel prairie winter.
Ouch. Especially painful as it has the ring of truth, even now!

Noah Richler is in Edmonton tonight to talk about Canadian literature – and perhaps defend the rather light presence of Alberta and Edmonton in his recent book, This Is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada. Richler, Alberta writers Todd Babiak and Aritha van Herk plus U of A writer-in-residence Catherine Bush (a Torontonian) will discuss “Whose Story Now: Noah Richler's Search for a National Literature” in an evening organized by U of A’s new Canadian Literature Centre.

The event takes place at 7pm at the Art Gallery of Alberta (Churchill Square, downtown Edmonton). Free-of-charge, with reception to follow (snacks?!)

Richler’s book is based on three years of research, criss-crossing the country, speaking to writers. Before the book there was the CBC Ideas radio documentary, which is available on CD at the Library [I note that St. Albert is the only library in Alberta with this available!].

Richard Helm spoke to Richler recently, with an article published in the Edmonton Journal yesterday. Richler responded to Helm’s suggestion that the book is light on Alberta:

On the phone from Toronto, he disagreed with the suggestion that Alberta writers seem under-represented in his book -- Fred Stenson is among those few quoted -- while acknowledging there's not an explicitly Edmonton contingent on the pages.

"I don't mind if there's a bit of a fight about that," Richler said, pointing out that he talked with Thomas Wharton and several other local writers without actually quoting them.

But this city is one he knows quite well, Richler maintained, having worked a seismic crew out of Edmonton several years back (and watched his Montreal Canadiens defeat the Oilers).

"Probably the most important idea of the book, which is the idea of work, came from my experience in Alberta," he said.

"That's where my experience of being Canadian was actually forged. I'm not trying to be corny and please anyone but it was from this job that took me literally by foot from Manitoba to the Rockies."

Richler said he's long felt Alberta is "one of the least understood but also worst represented places in Canada," the fault for which lies as much with Albertans themselves -- and Alberta writers -- as with people beyond its borders. "The rest of Canada doesn't particularly get it partly because Albertans haven't been the best at presenting who they are."


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