The GGs and The Luminaries, and Why We Should Celebrate, Not Disparage, Catton’s Win

I keep seeing these extremely ill-considered negative opinions across the internet in relation to Catton’s winning the Governor General’s Literary Award in fiction for The Luminaries. All of them speaking to her “unworthiness” to write Canadian fiction because she’s spent most of her life in New Zealand.

And I wasn’t going to say anything because I wasn’t really in the mood to hop into the middle of that particular argument. But then I saw this incredibly stupid article over at the Toronto Star.

There are some valid points in that article, but the central premise is deeply offensive, ill-considered bullshit.

And so I put up some thoughts on facebook, and now I’m sharing them, again, here:

I am deeply disappointed in the Star‘s approach to their article (linked above) about the Giller Award going to Catton, and referring to that decision as a “scandal.” And I extend my disappointment to anyone who chooses to run with that absurd argument.

Canadian identity does not stop at the border. Nor does your past, heritage, baggage of any nature, or other ephemera magically fall away if you stop living in this country. You take who you are, and the country that is a part of you, with you. Always. No matter where you begin and no matter where you end up. Suggesting that those who stop living here are no longer “Canadian enough” (yes, I’m paraphrasing)–or that the content of their work is no longer so–to be considered “Canadian” fiction and speak to, or well enough for, this nation?

Fuck you and the divisive, indefensible horse of an argument you rode in on.

That argument also means you have to defend the flip position of saying that people who come to Canada can’t win those awards because they’re not Canadian enough, and their work never will be, because, you know, they’re not one of us….

I don’t envy you attempting to win that argument; an argument whose flip side reeks of the foetid aroma of racism, xenophobia, and isolationist immigration and emigration policy. Not to mention that even without looking at the reductio ad absurdum version of your argument, the position you’re attempting to argue puts you in a place where you’re actually trying to suggest that, for example, Geoff Ryman shouldn’t have won the Sunburst Award for Paradise Tales back in 2012. Good luck with that. I’ll just be over here with my popcorn while you try and make that one work.

In the end, there are only illusory and agreed upon borders. It’s as true in fiction as it is in cartography, nation building, and ideology. And attempting to impose one specific set of criteria for Canadian identity and worth at the expense of the voices and experience of others completely misses the *actual* point of Canadian identity: community.

Lived experience is global, and all experience experienced by Canadian citizens (current, past, and future) is Canadian content. And the richer for it. So enough bellyaching. Catton won. Celebrate that, don’t disparage it.

It brings us together better.

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