This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
I would like to recommend Marilyn Dumont’s A Really Good Brown Girl, published by Brick Books in 1996. Neither a book on history or public policy, a memoir or novel, this first collection of poetry by a poet who has gone to publish three additional, award-winning collections is, arguably, all of the above. Winner of the Gerald Lampert Award, Brown Girl speaks back to both white and Aboriginal culture from the perspective of a Metis woman and does so with power, humour and eloquence.
A well-used text in classrooms across the country, Brown Girl made a huge impact in the poetry community when it was first published, and was recently re-released as a Brick Books classic. In the two decades since, Aboriginal and Metis writers, publishing houses, and the themes have come to play an even bigger part in Canadian literary culture, just as Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal peoples has moved at least partway up the political agenda. During this time, Canadian poetry has also reached a wider readership, through awards such as the Griffin Prize.
Can poetry influence public discourse? As a poet and poetry reader I would like to think so. I would like to think a poet like Dumont, a descendant of Gabriel Dumont, could be not only an unacknowledged, but an acknowledged legislator of the world we have inherited from our ancestors, Native or immigrant. As Brick Books states, “Something about the intent in Dumont’s voice …has resonated with readers and made this one of the most popular Canadian poetry titles of the last 25 years.”
Cathy Stonehouse is an author of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Editor of the award-winning literary journal Event for several years, she now teaches creative writing at Simon Fraser University. Her latest poetry collection is Grace Shiver (2011).