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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Canadian Literature in English  
 
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Journalism

Like Michael Lynch, whose poem "Cry" (from These Waves of Dying Friends, 1989) is inscribed on the AIDS memorial in Toronto, Persky is an American expatriate who has had a more profound effect on gay writing and culture in Canada through journalism.

Lynch's pieces in The Body Politic, for example, are classics, and some of them are anthologized in the important collection, Flaunting It! (1982).

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Like the establishment of a Canadian Gay Archives in Toronto, a number of publicly funded conferences on lesbian and gay studies, and the establishment of gay and lesbian courses in several universities, journalism has played a large part in establishing the Canadian lesbian and gay community as a powerful force.

Early in its career, The Body Politic set a high standard of critical writing. Several of its prominent writers are regular contributors to The Globe and Mail, Canada's "national" newspaper, which now frequently publishes essays and reviews on lesbian and gay themes.

Social and Literary Criticism

It is impossible to canvas all the distinguished gay critical material produced by Canadians in the last three decades, but such a survey would have to include Marion Foster and Kent Murray's A Not So Gay World (1972), Persky's Buddy's: Meditations on Desire (1989), Brian Pronger's study of gays in sports, The Arena of Masculinity (1990), Robert Martin's The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry (1989), Richard Dellamora's Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (1990), Edgar Friedenberg's Deference to Authority (1980), Robin Wood's Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (1986), and Geoff Mains's Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality (1984).

The relation between the arts has also prompted some very interesting Anglo-Canadian gay and lesbian writing. Fluid Exchanges (1992), an anthology of writing about AIDS based on the traveling exhibition of AIDS posters organized by James Miller is a case in point. So too is Richard Fung's essay "Looking For my Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Video Porn," that appeared in the anthology How Do I Look? Queer Film and Video (1991).

Another example of this important interchange is Sight Specific, the catalogue of a Toronto exhibition on the relation between lesbian sexual practices and images that was contributed to equally by lesbian artists and writers. So too is the lesbian painter Mary Meigs's well-written autobiographical fiction, Lily Briscoe: A Self Portrait (1981).

Graham Jackson's The Secret Lore of Gardening (1991), a book on male intimacy, would not find itself in such company. In spite of a rather silly scheme to account for kinds of behavior, however, a great deal of very interesting material about the history of homosexuality is assembled in it. Jackson's earlier piece, "The Theatre of Implication," from Ian Young's important bibliography, The Male Homosexual in Literature (1982), is also a seminal essay.

Gay Male Fiction

Jackson is primarily a fiction writer in a rather old-fashioned symbolic mode. One of his "gothic" stories, "The Apothecary Jar," has an air of Thomas Mann (the suppression and evasion of sex and its association with death), but his intensely self-occupied characters are also indebted to Virginia Woolf.

Will Aitken's fiction comes from a tougher school. His first novel, Terre Haute (1989), is a savage autobiographical account of growing up in Indiana that nonetheless contains some extraordinary passages of passion.

An index of the problem of defining what is Canadian gay literature, however, is that Terre Haute was not acquired by the largest library in the country, though Aitken's recent powerful novel about incest and child abuse, A Visit Home (1993), has been.

Altogether more amiable and easier reading are the mysteries of another gay Montreal writer, Edward Phillips. Phillips's first novel, Sunday's Child (1981), has led to series of entertaining novels in the same manner, in which a set of gay and straight characters inhabit the closeted world of English-speaking Montreal.

Mystery writing has not been a male preserve, however. Both Eve Zaremba (A Reason to Kill, 1978; Uneasy Lies, 1990) and Marion Foster (Victims, 1985; The Monarchs are Flying, 1987; Legal Tender, 1992) have written lively works in this genre from a lesbian perspective.

Author of three collections of short stories, Beyond Happiness (1985), The I.Q. Zoo (1991), and Sweetheart (1992), the late expatriate American writer, Peter McGehee, is now best known for his novel, Boys Like Us (1991). An odd mixture of the AIDS-afflicted community of Toronto and a sit-com version of Arkansas, McGehee's novel is good on witty narrative, but his characters are less than fully realized. Sounding like Armistead Maupin caricatures, they give the novel a strangely ventriloquist air as if (like many contemporary movies) filmed in Canada but really about the United States.

Wit is also a feature of David Carpenter's earlier novel, Jewels (1985): a strange farrago of romance, whodunit, shabby subculture, and the academy. Not without its grotesques, it nonetheless makes a good story, and the gay worlds of Saskatoon and Victoria are a well-realized part of the fiction.

David Watmough's autobiographical collection of short stories, Ashes for Easter (1972), is largely set in England. Located in a time long before gay liberation, Watmough's stories inhabit a bleak 1940s and 1950s world of self-pity, oddly glossed over with an incongruously erudite diction that he has not entirely shaken in his later work.

There is something of Watmough's social-realist misery in Dog Years (1991), a novel by another Vancouver author, Dennis Denisoff. Overshadowed as it is by AIDS and set largely in Soviet Ukraine, its autobiographical manner is more powerful. Denisoff also has a strong sense of the potency of language and culture as metaphors for gay exile. He also has a nicely ironic way with words. "My erogenous zones," his persona writes, "have always been on other people's bodies."

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