Something I didn’t cover much in “Pay the Rent” was the role of the media, particularly the CBC, in writers’ lives – not just as an income supplement via journalism or broadcasting, but also in the promotion of their work.
CBC’s website has Books as a section unto itself – books are not slotted under Arts or Entertainment or even Sports (seriously, National Post?). The CBC Books section includes reading lists, book news, book-related quizzes, archive links (“on this day”), as well as two radio shows about books: “Writers and Company” with Eleanor Wachtel, and “The Next Chapter” with Shelagh Rogers– for you, the CBC listener.
Then there is the tab “Canada Writes,” for writers, apparently to help them win one of the annual CBC Literary Prizes (short story, creative nonfiction, poetry). Here one can read about the art of writing and ask questions of writers. When I think of writers and CBC Radio, I think of Robert Weaver’s programme “Anthology” and the Morningside interviews, as hosted by Don Harron and then Peter Gzowski.
In fact, my title “The Writers’ Friend” is taken from an interview with Robert Weaver available on “Rewind: 75 Years of Literature” (Clip 5). Interviewer Warren Davis calls Weaver not only “the writer’s friend” but also “the midwife of Canadian Literature.” Davis rattles off a list of writers Weaver has helped by buying their work and offering advances, thus helping along the early years of Canadian Literature, from Morley Callaghan, Hugh Garner, and Mordecai Richler to Al Purdy, Doug Fetherling, and Marian Engel). Weaver responds by saying he felt he had to, as there were so few magazines or outlets for a writer’s work at that time.
Michael Enright’s selection of readings and interviews for the 14 clips of “75 Years of Literature” looks like an undergraduate’s reading list for Canadian classics: Farley Mowat, Phyllis Webb (herself a broadcaster), Leonard Cohen, Northrop Frye, Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Roch Carrier, Carol Shields, Mordecai Richler, Lawrence Hill, Donna Morrissey, Rohinton Mistry. Wait – where’s Margaret Laurence, Alistair MacLeod and (insert name of your favourite author absent from this list)?
CBC’s role in book promotion goes hand in hand with its role as employer of writers, not only hiring them to write scripts for radio dramas, but hiring them as broadcasters. Ann-Marie MacDonald hosts the documentary program “Doc Zone.” André Alexis has hosted two radio shows. Pierre Berton went from spots on “Close-Up” and “Front Page Challenge” to having his own show on CTV: “The Pierre Berton Show”; today, he is likely to be better remembered for the CBC dramatization of his railway books, The National Dream and The Last Spike. Ottawa’s Elizabeth Hay and Frances Itani have both done work for the CBC. Erika Ritter on radio has made us laugh and Josée Bilodeau reviews theatre for Radio-Canada. Again, these are the authors who have come to my attention; there must be others. The CBC thus offers writers not only interesting projects but also some financial stability.
What is your favourite book chat show?
How “Apostrophes,” the French TV book show, helped book sales, in this 1989 New York Times article on the bad news of its end.
Want to make federal support for the CBC an election issue? Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
TVO’s “Imprint” started with Daniel Richler (1988-2005) at Wikipedia
Robert Weaver on The Canadian Encyclopedia
Howard Fink, “English-Language Radio Drama” The Canadian Encyclopaedia, (02/07/06 edited 03/04/15) on the early years of CBC radio drama
Robert McCrum, “From Bestseller to Bust: Is this the End of an Author’s Life?” Guardian Sunday 2 March 2014.