Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada

cover photo University of Toronto Press

When I was book editor for the Varsity newspaper at the University of Toronto, I reviewed a dictionary. This outraged the Review editor so much that I still remember his reaction — a dare to review Harlequins for my next column. All these years later, and here I am again. What I really want to talk about is an encyclopedia. I was doing research in Ottawa last week, at the public library and at Library and Archives Canada.

The Ottawa Public Library was so cold that I had to prowl from section to section, spending about five minutes with each book and then moving on to another part of the library in the hope that I wouldn’t be under the air conditioning vent. There was no escape. And in the reference section I found an extraordinarily large book for the subject of Canadian literature. When did that happen? When did Canlit go from anthology to a 1000-page encyclopedia? Because I couldn’t sit still with this book for more than ten minutes, I am not here reviewing it. I would love to see a comparison of W.H. New’s Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada (University of Toronto Press 2002) with the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature and the Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature. “Cultural plurality” seems to be the main difference. From the promo for the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada:

This up-to-date reference book brings together 300 leading Canadianists to look at literature in Canada from a variety of perspectives. In over 2000 entries, acknowledging Canada’s cultural plurality, the Encyclopedia discusses literature in English and French, and also in such other languages as Yiddish, Spanish, Haida and Cree…

This encyclopedia should not be confused with the Canadian Encyclopedia, which has been around in print from since 1985 and online since 1999. It includes literary entries. The online version is published by the Historica Foundation.

Hold on, the Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada came out ten years ago already. Where was I? Oh yeah — abroad. Its publisher, the University of Toronto Press, received support for it from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies at the University of British Columbia. The press received support for its publishing activities from the Canadian government through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program. The Canadian Heritage website says that this program has been “streamlined” and renamed the Canada Book Fund. Hmm. How often does an encyclopedia need an update?

What the Archives Reveal

Cover of Archives issue of Canadian Literature

According to one of W.H. New’s other publishers, Oolichan Press, the editor — a poet and academic at the University of British Columbia with many publications — was also the editor of the academic quarterly Canadian Literature  for nearly two decades. Oh, and he studied abroad, at the University of Leeds. His work was recognized by the Governor General’s International Award in Canadian Studies. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006.

The University of Toronto Press is now commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Northrop Frye. They are publishing The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, which has been 20 years in the making. University of Toronto alumnae may remember him for his Shakespeare lectures. His works continue to be read around the world: Anatomy of Criticism, Fearful Symmetry, The Great Code: the Bible and Literature, for example. Read more about the U of T project here.

Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye (from Canadian Encyclopedia)

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor

One Comment

  1. Bill New’s encyclopædia is superb! As, of course, are most of his insightful articles about the development of Canadian literature, and what it means to be Canadian. But I know him best for his children’s poetry… seriously, he reads well… you can see for yourself if you are lucky enough to catch one of his rare performances for the young. He has three poetry books published by Ronsdale Press here in Vancouver: Vanilla Gorilla, Llamas in the Laundry, and Dream Helmet. Very fun for the young elementary child reader, with illustrations by Vivian Bevis that are an integral part of the poetic effect…


Comments are closed.