Review by Maureen Shaw
Edited by Greta Hofmann Nemiroff. Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1989. $35, 406 pp.
Because several well-known Canadian writers are women - Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro - many believe that the status of Canadian women writers is good; that Canada gives equal opportunity and voice to its women writers. In fact, the reverse is true.
Male writers receive most of the grants, support, and publication; the publishing industry is male dominated; English and Creative Writing departments in colleges and universities are staffed largely by men. Anthologies of Canadian literature and reading lists in English courses comprise mostly male writers. And while the reading audience in Canada is overwhelmingly female, to find works by Canadian women writers is difficult and to find anthologies of their writing has been almost impossible.
Celebrating Canadian Women: Prose and Poetry By and About Women, edited by Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, fills that void. In her introduction, Nemiroff refers to "the near invisibility of women writers and artists in the curricula of schools and universities" as one of the motivations for compiling this anthology. She is to be celebrated herself for the success she has achieved in bringing together these women's voices that express in diverse ways the intricacies of women's experiences and perceptions.
The book contains short stories and poems from countless Canadian women, grouped under ten thematic headings from Growing Up Female to Power and Transcendence. Our most famous - Atwood, Laurence, Munro - are represented as are other well-known writers such as Dorothy Livesay, Audrey Thomas, Leona Gom, Aritha Van Herk, Ann Cameron, and Sandra Birdsell. But one of the book's strengths is its inclusion of the work of relatively unknown writers such as Lori Weber, Sandra Hartline, Sharon Carlson, Susan Glickman, and Frances Davis. Sadly, several notables are missing - Carol Shields, Jane Rule, Mavis Gallant - but perhaps Nemiroff did not receive submissions from them. Some of the entries are of questionable merit but the strengths of the rest overshadow the deficiencies of weaker ones. The final section, Biographical Notes on the Contributors, is helpful and enlightening, although a few of the writers are, unfortunately, omitted.