From printed word to small screen, CanLit titles poised to make a splash in 2017
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TORONTO — Following a year in which homegrown authors earned international acclaim, 2017 promises more big things for the CanLit community with an emerging "cultural diversity" of voices and adaptations of beloved works set for the stage and screen.
This past year saw Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue receive an Oscar screenplay nod for the adaptation of her celebrated novel "Room." In 2017, "Room" will be reworked for the stage at London's Theatre Royal Stratford East, Dublin's Abbey Theatre and the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland.
Margaret Atwood will also see her work translated for a new medium next year.
The CanLit legend's award-winning dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale" is being produced as a series by U.S. streaming service Hulu and MGM Television, and is set to premiere early in the new year.
Production is also underway for the six-hour miniseries "Alias Grace," which will air on CBC and stream on Netflix internationally (no air date has been set). And MGM Television has also acquired the rights to adapt Atwood's acclaimed novel "The Heart Goes Last."
"I think that definitely says a lot about not only the strength of Canadian literature and Canadian writing, but the ways that we are consuming things like television or film," said Jason Purcell, communications officer with the University of Alberta-based Canadian Literature Centre.
"I think that a lot of these books that we're seeing see success — or have lasting success in the case of Margaret Atwood's books — really lend themselves to the types of media that's being produced now."
2016 proved to be a banner year for boosting the profile of other Canadian authors abroad, notably Montreal-based Madeleine Thien.
Thien joined fellow Canadian-born author David Szalay on the short list for the U.K.'s prestigious Man Booker Prize. Closer to home, the Vancouver-born writer basked in the breakout success of her bestseller "Do Not Say We Have Nothing," which won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Purcell said he was also buoyed this year by the works of emerging writers who are helping reshape the Canadian landscape with fresh perspectives on contemporary issues.
He pointed to "Even This Page is White," the debut poetry collection by Toronto's Vivek Shraya, which explores race and gender, and "Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life," by Erin Wunker for its blend of memoir, pop culture and literary criticism.
"I think that younger writers are really troubling the idea of Canadian literature," said Purcell.
"I think Canadian literature is really institutionalized in a lot of ways, and how we think about it runs on these lines of what we're taught in school — the Margaret Laurences or Sinclair Rosses or Margaret Atwoods, which are fine books, of course. But I think Canadian literature as it's been institutionalized doesn't reflect everyone in the same way.
"I think a lot of these younger writers are ... trying to redefine Canadian literature, and I think that's really exciting work."
Giller finalist Zoe Whittall also earned praise from Canadian observers for her novel "The Best Kind of People," which was lauded for its deft handling of rape culture and sexual assault.
"It's a really timely, important book," said Kerry Clare, editor of the website 49th Shelf. "It's a gripping, plot-driven book that has this incredible rhythm that keeps going and going until its devastating ending.
"I think that even though the subject matter is difficult, I think it's a book that anybody would have a good time reading and be able to relate to and learn a lot from."
Both Clare and Purcell expressed excitement for the latest from award-winning author Eden Robinson, whose work includes the Giller-shortlisted "Monkey Beach." Her coming-of-age tale "Son of a Trickster" is due out in February.
"For a long time, I think she was the only First Nations woman author that I really knew about, and that's starting to change, which I think is incredible," Clare said of Robinson, who grew up in Haisla territory near Kitamaat Village in B.C.
"I'm glad there are other voices, but I'm also thrilled to have a novel from her coming."
Purcell said Robinson showcases a "pure joy" in her writing" while also tackling weighty, important subject matter.
"She isn't afraid of reaching into those dark corners. But if you've seen her read or you know her work, there's this kind of life to her and her writing," he said of Robinson, who received the $25,000 Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award last fall honouring a mid-career writer for their body of work.
"I think that combination of being unafraid to look at really important and dark themes, but also approach it with this joy and life is a combination I think that's really affecting."
Forthcoming titles from award-winning Montreal author Heather O'Neill ("The Lonely Hearts Hotel") and "Men Walking on Water," from "The Blondes" writer Emily Schultz, also rank high on Clare's must-read list.
Clare is also anticipating "Hunting Houses," by Quebec playwright, author and translator Fanny Britt. Her graphic novel "Jane, the Fox and Me" landed on best-book lists in Canada and the U.S., and won a Governor General's Literary Award in 2013.
"There is starting to be finally diversity in the books that publishers are seeking out — a cultural diversity that I think is so wonderful."
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.