Current and Contemporary Voices
- Background and Context
- What to Expect in the Literature
- Featured Authors
- Further Reading
- How to Cite
Background and Context
The New Brunswick authors in this, the final module of the curriculum, share what might appear to be an unsteady anchorage. Unlike the groupings of earlier authors, these contemporary authors are not bound by geographic proximity, stylistic likeness, historical circumstance, or a shared politics of language or identity. Rather, they find themselves grouped in this module because they are all New Brunswick writers of the contemporary world. That looseness of association is as much a function of a changing world as it is the determination of a curriculum designer. While it made sense to group earlier New Brunswick writers according to certain likenesses, believing that those likenesses would enable readers to understand authors and their province more fully, the contemporary world resists such easy classification.
There are numerous reasons for that resistance, the first being how the province has been reconstituted by the global world. New Brunswickers have always been global citizens. Before Confederation, they moved freely around the North Atlantic as part of a busy seaboard trade economy. During the Confederation era, they moved westward and into the U.S., seeking opportunities in Boston and New York, and traversing what was then a highly porous border. As post-Confederation federalism concentrated wealth in manufacturing industries in the urbanized centre of Canada, New Brunswickers travelled west to work in textiles, the auto industry, and later the oil patch. Provincial citizens, then, have always been on the move, and the province has never been as isolated or out of the mainstream as stereotypes would have us believe.
That said, the idea of place and the notion of spatial identity, whether provincial or regional, has undergone radical change over time. Whereas Charles G.D. Roberts was proud to maintain the identity of a New Brunswicker while working in New York in the late 1800s, such identifications are more tenuous today. Today, many writers prefer to be thought of as citizens of a larger world, a world with few boundaries, and a world where the vexed economic history of New Brunswick and the Maritimes does not prejudge them and their work.
The nation’s intellectual class has championed this dissociation from place by shifting attention from Canada’s regions to its supposedly “region-less” multicultural identity. (The premise that that shift is not spatial, however, is as deeply paradoxical and troubling as it is ideological, for the concentration of multiethnic communities in Canada is urban and central. The shift, then, is meant to pull attention away from the regions and into the centre of the country, away from a rural sensibility and toward an urban one.) The result is that fewer and fewer of Canada’s writers are willing to identify with place – and this is true for New Brunswick as well. To reach wider audiences, to universalize their art, to distance themselves from negative stereotypes, and to enter the currents of modern allowance and taste, many contemporary writers do not identity as New Brunswickers (or situate their work in New Brunswick soil) as readily as their predecessors did.
Complicating that further has been New Brunswick’s changing sense of itself since the 1990s. No longer content with the image of a resource-based and industrial economy, an economy of wood, fish, and other staples, the province’s governing class has “opened New Brunswick for business,” which means that the province has become a series of micro economies (and micro identities) that range from information, to resource extraction, to tourism, to whatever brings jobs to the beleaguered province. This grab at short-term opportunity, which is characteristic of many small jurisdictions in a post-mercantile world, has meant that English New Brunswickers do not have as clear a sense of who they are as they once did. The solidarity and cause that Acadian New Brunswickers feel around language and minority status is not present among English New Brunswickers, many of whom feel disenfranchised within their own province.
In the absence of the unifiers of the past, English-language writers, with few exceptions, have maintained tenuous associations with the province, electing to identify as simply writers rather than “New Brunswick” writers. The trend away from hyphenated status is also evident among writers from other jurisdictions, both national and international. Today, writers and artists want their work to appeal to a universal audience, feeling, but generally not admitting, that to identify as a New Brunswick or a Saskatchewan writer is both to appear naïve and to limit one’s appeal. “Regional” has become a bad word in the lexicon of contemporary art and literature.
So what is the implication of that for editors, anthologists, and curriculum designers? Our job must be to select the best contemporary authors and present them without classification. That is what we have done here. But we must also point out that the resistance to classification itself is a feature of New Brunswick and similar jurisdictions. With cross-border and inter-provincial trade agreements, electronic commerce, employment migrancy, and digital communications, borders everywhere are falling, including in New Brunswick. The province, as a result, is as sovereign as it ever was, but without the agency or influence it once had. It is home to storefronts and portals that reach into a wider world that thinks of places like New Brunswick as marginal, a standing reserve of labourers, consumers, and resources. We feed ravenous machines that exist elsewhere. That is the New Brunswick that contemporary writers know, and their response to that experience constitutes the variety of literary expressions in this module.
What becomes very important is our consideration, as provincial citizens, of those changes and the new landscape that has resulted. Is a provincial literature still worth something? Does it still stand “at the vanguard of [a] society’s effort to define itself” (Richler 327), teaching us things about ourselves, our heritage, our instincts, negotiations, and dispositions? Can there still be such a thing as a provincial or regional identity? If so, what currency does that identity have? What can be done with it, learned from it? Is resistance futile, as Star Trek’s The Borg warned, and are we being assimilated into a global maw of sameness? Is that what we want for our province? The work of the contemporary authors in this module, along with our sustained focus in this English-language curriculum, points to those vital questions.
Richler, Noah. This Is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2006.
What to Expect in the Literature
The field of contemporary literature in New Brunswick is varied and dynamic. No one writer dominates, nor does one school or region of the province stand out. The most telling feature of contemporary writing is the fact that most of the writers in this module were born but no longer live in New Brunswick. The only time that happened with the same frequency was in the era of the Confederation poets – and then, like now, economic outmigration was at the root of absence. Elisabeth Harvor lives in Ottawa, Brian Bartlett in Halifax, Alan Wilson in Victoria, Richard Vaughan in Toronto, and Tammy Armstrong in southwest Nova Scotia. It is not surprising, then, that feelings of waywardness and deracination are evident in our contemporary literature.
Those feelings are not tied to postmodern moods of angst or listlessness, but to a sense of ambivalence about New Brunswick. Whether writers feel they have been riven from place by economic circumstance or choose to distance themselves from what they feel are outmoded notions of place-based sympathy and fidelity, the result is the same: writers have been orphaned, and like all orphans have an uneasy relationship with parentage.
What readers should look for in this module is the extent to which those feelings of ambivalence about New Brunswick are changing the narrative of the province. Is New Brunswick sustainable as an imagined space when so many of its finest writers are outside its borders? And if it is, how is its identity changing as it is increasingly viewed at a distance, as both memory and regret? Is it being turned to folklore or is it being further modernized by outside perspectives, perspectives that, perhaps, represent the new norm in the 21st century?
- M. Travis Lane
- Elisabeth Harvor
- Anne Compton
- Brian Bartlett
- Alan Wilson
- Lynn Davies
- R.M. Vaughan
- Tammy Armstrong
Coady, Lynn. “Introduction: Books that say Arse.” Victory Meat: New Fiction from Atlantic Canada. Ed. Lynn Coady. Toronto: Anchor, 2003. 1-6.
Forbes, Ernest R. Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes. Fredericton, NB: Acadiensis, 1989.
Hodd, Thomas. “Let’s Get Creative: The Forgotten Role of Culture in New Brunswick’s Quest for Self-Sufficiency.” Exploring the Dimensions of Self-Sufficiency for New Brunswick. Ed. Michael Boudreau, Peter G. Toner, and Tony Tremblay. Fredericton: NBASRDC, 2009. 196-209.
Kenny, James. “Political Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Atlantic Canada.” Acadiensis 29.1 (1999): 122-37.
McKay, Ian. “The Idea of the Folk.” The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1994. 3-42.
Richler, Noah. “Making Things Up.” This Is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada. Toronto: McClelland And Stewart, 2006. 317-54.
Savoie, Donald J. Visiting Grandchildren: Economic Development in the Maritimes. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2006.
Tomblin, Stephen, and Charles S. Colgan, eds. Regionalism in a Global Society: Persistence and Change in Atlantic Canada and New England. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2004.
Tremblay, Tony. The Fiddlehead Moment: Pioneering an Alternative Canadian Modernism in New Brunswick. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 2019.
---. “Theorizing New Brunswick’s Self-Sufficiency: Is There a Place for Culture at the Heart of Socio-Economic Renewal?” Exploring the Dimensions of Self-Sufficiency for New Brunswick. Ed. Michael Boudreau, Peter G. Toner, and Tony Tremblay. Fredericton: NBASRDC, 2009. 245-263.
Workman, Thom. Social Torment: Globalization in Atlantic Canada. Halifax: Fernwood, 2003.
Wyile, Herb. Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic Canadian Literature. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2011.
How to Cite
Use of material in the New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English is restricted to scholarly, research, or educational purposes only. Use should include appropriate citations. The following citation is an example of how a researcher should cite the author pages for Tammy Armstrong:
Tremblay, Tony, James William Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell. “Tammy Armstrong.” New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English. Fredericton: UNB Libraries, 2020.
The following citation is an example of how a researcher should cite the module pages for Current and Contemporary Voices, the module within which Armstrong appears:
Tremblay, Tony, James William Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell. “Current and Contemporary Voices: Background and Context.” New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English. Fredericton: UNB Libraries, 2020.