Literary History of Saskatchewan, Volume 3

7 August 2019

The Literary History of Saskatchewan: Volume 3 – Advances
edited by David Carpenter and Kelly-Anne Riess
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Keith Foster
$29.95 ISBN 978-1-55050-954-0

The Literary History of Saskatchewan: Volume 3 – Advances is Coteau Books’ third and final volume analyzing Saskatchewan’s proud literary tradition. Compiling and assessing a literary history of the province isn’t easy, especially when that history is ongoing. But editor David Carpenter, ably assisted by Kelly-Anne Riess, has done a commendable job in this Herculean task.

Carpenter divides Saskatchewan’s literary history into three segments. Volume 1 traced the accomplishments of writers from the oral traditions of First Nations storytellers and early European explorers to the burgeoning Saskatchewan literary world of the 1970s. Volume 2 carried on with Saskatchewan writers and their writing styles from the 1980s to the end of the twentieth century. Volume 3 brings Saskatchewan’s literary history up to date.

This three-volume scholarly study presents twelve essays by prominent Saskatchewan authors, with a heavy slant on Regina, where more than half of the essayists reside. All bring insights into Saskatchewan’s literary psyche.

Carpenter’s introduction is also a farewell as this collection is the last in the series under his superb stewardship. He notes that the methods of writing have changed drastically over the decades, with many upcoming writers “so young that they’ve never used a typewriter.”

A glance at the table of contents gives readers a fair idea of what to expect. Cassidy McFadzean’s essay, “Autonomy and the Female Artist,” analyzes the writing style of six outstanding women poets – Tracy Hamon, Shelley Leedahl, Jeanette Lynes, Louise Halfe (Saskatchewan’s first Poet Laureate), Kathleen Wall, and Sheri Benning.

In “This land is filled with ghosts,” Aidan Morgan explores trauma, memory, and place in the works of Guy Vanderhaeghe, Yann Martel, Candace Savage, and Sandra Birdsell. Kathleen Wall explores a variety of nonfiction from 1985 to the present.

Other topics include Saskatchewan mysteries, young adult writers and the power of the written word, and Saskatchewan poetry in the new millennium. Each essay ends with a list of works cited. The Literary History of Saskatchewan also includes an indispensable index and brief biographies of the essayists. In this array of topics, the essayists examine Saskatchewan literature to determine what makes it so distinctive. It appears to be more than just an emphasis on a sense of place.

A photo gallery features eleven black and white photos of prairie icons such as Robert Currie, Dave Margoshes, Alice Kuipers, Trevor Herriot, the father-daughter team of Bob and Alison Calder, and Saskatchewan literature’s Fab Four – Marliss Wesseler, Connie Gault, Dianne Warren, and Bonnie Burnard. These authors represent but the tip of the iceberg that is Saskatchewan literature.

Each decade seems to produce another bumper crop of emerging Saskatchewan writers. It is perhaps fair then to say this “final” volume of The Literary History of Saskatchewan: Volume 3 – Advances may be only temporary. As new crops of writers emerge, one hopes that future editors and publishers will reap another bountiful harvest similar to this one.


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