NBLCE Statement by Content Developer James W. Johnson
As a recent graduate of the University of New Brunswick’s Masters of Arts in English program, I came to the NBLCE with a grounding in the literature of Canada’s Maritime provinces. I had studied Maritime literature at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and my MA thesis, titled “Old Provinces, New Modernisms: Toward an Editorial Poetics of the Maritime Little Magazine,” examined the history, influence, and editorial polemics of the region’s leading twentieth-century literary magazines. I was thus aware of the rich literary heritage of the Maritimes. Nevertheless, when I learned that the NBLCE was to include only New Brunswick literature, I was sceptical. I knew the province had produced some of Canada’s greatest poets, but as Canada’s third smallest province, did its literature warrant a curriculum of its own? As I read and analyzed the work in the NBLCE, I became increasingly convinced that it did.
The diversity and expansiveness of New Brunswick’s literary history is astounding. When studying New Brunswick literature over time, we come into contact with the greatest literary movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. The mysticism, emotion, and lyrical beauty of Romanticism; the skepticism, allusiveness, and formal experimentation of modernism; the deeply personal and humanistic poetics of Confessionalism – these are but a few of the literary movements one encounters when reading New Brunswick’s poetry and fiction. And yet, while New Brunswick’s literature has always been in touch with the major trends of the Western literary tradition, it is also deeply informed by the social and cultural conditions in which it has emerged and to which it has responded.
The literature of New Brunswick allows us not only to appreciate the history and development of the province's voices and styles, but also teaches us about the history and development of New Brunswick society. When we study the literature of a particular place we confront the values, ideals, hopes, fears, prejudices, anxieties, and aspirations of the people in that place. New Brunswick’s writers have grappled with the great questions of their times, but they have also given expression to the manifold experiences that have formed the distinct culture of New Brunswick: the collective experiences, always social and constantly evolving, that constitute our sense of place and give meaning to our own experience of New Brunswick and the world beyond. It is this belief in the indivisible relationship between literature, culture, and place that has both informed and been strengthened by my work on the NBLCE.
James W. Johnson