When I was growing up in Canada, reading Canadian authors in school was mandatory. Fortunately, with more Canadian authors making successful careers for themselves you don’t have to force anyone to read Can Lit anymore. You’ll even find a fair amount of information about Canadian literature on the Net now. Although, I was disappointed to discover that there’s little online on some of the greats like Robertson Davies, Farley Mowatt, and Mordecai Richler, I did manage to uncover several writers sites worth visiting on the World Wide Web.
The Margaret Atwood Information Web Site
Despite the fact that this is not the most imaginatively named home page, the Margaret Atwood Information Web Site is a reliable repository of all things Atwood. The Ottawa novelist is perhaps best known for “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Edible Woman.” You’ll find a complete bibliography at this official site, as well as information on how to find earlier works of Atwood’s originally published by the Salamander Press. Naturally, there’s a considerable number of words expended here on Atwood’s latest book, Alias Grace. Unfortunately, the reviews page amounts to dusk-jacket hype quotes rather than full-length reviews, but the copy of the 1843 letter from which the novelist got the germ of the idea for the book is quite interesting. Struggling writers will most appreciate the worthwhile “on writing” section of the site, which offers some text from recent lectures and helpful advice. Visitors will also notice that this is possibly the most personal writer’s site online. You can learn about Margaret’s favorite charities, pet political peeves, and there's even a lengthy note from Atwood’s assistant answering common questions, offering helpful suggestions, and explaining why they can’t respond to certain types of inquiries from fans and erstwhile authors. And there’s a cute page about her 24-year marriage to author Graeme Gibson and another about her gardening attempts. All this makes it easy to overlook the lack of design flair at this tidy webstation.
The Earle Birney Web Site
Created by students and teachers from the University College of the Cariboo and Kamloops Secondary School in British Columbia, the Earle Birney Web Site is a modest introduction to the works of one of the main characters in the pantheon of Can Lit. Birney is best known as a poet and, in other countries, as a travel writer of sorts. In English classes, he is cited for using the natural cadences in Canadian speech to write “sound poems” and later his doodles became a trademark for concrete poetry or “shape poems,” such as “Alaska Passage.” He had some odd political views in his youth but was the recipient of the coveted Governor General’s Literary Awards twice, for the collection “David and Other Poems” and “Now Is Time.” At the site, the basis for which is material from the National Library of Canada, you’ll find essays and reviews online about Birney and his work, as well as a brief biography, photo collection, and quiz. Also online is a selected bibliography for further reading. And true to Canadian form, the site is available in both English and French.
The Leonard Cohen Files
Exhibiting the most flash and panache of the Can Lit Web sites is the Leonard Cohen Fan Information Files webstation. Maybe that’s because most people these days think of Leonard as a hipster singer/songwriter rather than a poet and novelist. (He was the first person, aside from Johnny Cash, I can think of who wore all black.) Back in the ‘60s his song “Suzanne” received some airplay, but since then most of his albums have been reserved for a select following (even though he has received several awards in recent years). But that following is dedicated, as evidenced by this thorough, engaging I-way stop maintained by Jarkko Arjatsalo in Finland. Jarkko has done an excellent job collecting Cohen arcana and mirroring relevant pages from other fans sites. Here you’ll find a solid biography of the author/pop star and various newspaper and radio interviews with the ladies’ man. There’s an extensive bibliography, filmography, and discography as well, and if you dig deep into the Fan Information Files you’ll even find some commentary on his books, including one of my favorites, 1966’s Beautiful Losers. And given its point of origin, don’t be surprised to find a collection of cover versions of Cohen’s songs in Finnish. Creatively wrought and admirably maintained, the Leonard Cohen Fan Information Files is one of the better “unofficial” sites dedicated to a single author.
Michael Ondaatje Information
Not well known beyond the confines of Canada until the release of the movie “The English Patient,” Michael Ondaatje is a recent discovery for many readers. To begin, site author Thomas B. Friedman has compiled a respectable bibliography of several things Ondaatje has laid his hand to, from edited books to poetry collections to novels to movies. For fans of “The English Patient,” it’s a great place to find other works to follow up with (I recommend in particular “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid”). For webheads there’s a downloadable clip of the 2 minute and 25 second trailer for the film “The English Patient,” and links galore. You can read Salon’s interview with the author from last year, as well as peruse essays on his work from various sources including encyclopedic biographies and career profiles. The site is still under construction, but if you’re a newcomer to Ondaatje’s work or a long-time fan, I recommend it as a good jumping off point.