Got Canadians?

I was delighted when my friend, the Canadian poet and writer Ellen Jaffe, offered to provide me with a list of the top 10 Canadian women writers to share with blog readers.

Bigger than a baker’s dozen

The list soon grew to a dozen, then a baker’s dozen. Then she added one more. And what would a poet call a list with 14 items? A sonnet, of course.

In her list Ellen tried to represent “the whole geography and multi-cultural aspect of Canada.” She also made the interesting observation that, “As the Canadian literary community is both smaller and closer/more connected than in the U.S., most people here would have read these writers, heard them on CBC-radio, and seen or met them at conferences and workshops.”

So here, with some annotation from me, is Ellen Jaffe’s sonnet of Canadian women writers.

A sonnet of Canadian women writers

Margaret Atwood. This one is no surprise. Unlike some writers on this list, Atwood is widely published and known in the U.S. She writes novels, stories, poetry and essays, and speaks on social issues, particularly the environment. Ellen describes her as “probably Canada’s primary woman of letters today.”

Dionne Brand. Born in Trinidad, she’s a poet, novelist and essayist. She’s written two dozen books – poetry, fiction and nonfiction – and won a host of literary awards.

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand

Sharon Butala. Born in Saskatchewan, Sharon Butala has been busy. According to her website, she has written 16 books of both fiction and nonfiction, numerous essays and articles, some poetry and five produced plays.

Lorna Crozier. One of Canada’s leading poets, she also writes the occasional prose piece. Check out her website here.

Mavis Gallant. She grew up in Quebec but lived much of her life in Paris. And what a life it was. Read about her in this New Yorker article, published shortly after her death in 2014.

Nalo Hopkinson. Born in Jamaica, she lived much of her life in Canada and now teaches in California. She writes fiction, including science fiction/fantasy, that focuses on themes of gender, racial and social justice. Here’s her website.

Joy Kogawa. Author of eight books of poetry and prose, she is best known for the novel Obasan, which is about the Japanese-Canadian experience in WWII. Her work has won literary acclaim and been honored by nations, including Japan and Canada.

Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa

Shaena Lambert. She’s a novelist and short story writer from British Columbia. Take a moment to browse through her website.

Margaret Laurence. Ellen Jaffe says Laurence “gave a voice to the prairies, as well as to women.” Laurence wrote eight books of fiction, five nonfiction books and four children’s books, in the process winning a slew of literary awards. One of her best-known novels, The Stone Angel, was about a 90-year-old woman. She achieved all of this during a sadly brief lifetime, as she died in 1987 at age 60.

Ann-Marie MacDonald. She’s a novelist, playwright and actor. I read and loved two of her novels, Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies. Here’s an intriguing trailer for her latest novel, Adult Onset.

Ann-Marie MacDonald

Ann-Marie MacDonald


Lisa Moore. In this video, the novelist and short story writer from Newfoundland talks about her writing process.

Alice Munro. She is the universally acknowledged master of the craft of writing short stories, an artist of concision, and 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Also one of the tiny handful of Canadian writers most Americans can name.

Eden Robinson. A member of the Haisla and Heilstuk First Nations, Robinson has written three novels and one work of nonfiction. She’s known for her interrogation of the dark side of human nature.

Eden Robinson

Eden Robinson

Miriam Toews. A fiction and memoir writer who comes from a small Mennonite community in Manitoba, Toews has made a splash with her latest novel, All My Puny Sorrows. It popped up on best-of-fiction-2014 lists from Canada’s The Globe and Mail to the Boston Globe to Buzzfeed. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles, generally not a gusher, said, “In the crucible of her genius, tears and laughter are ground into some magical elixir that seems like the essence of life.” Jeez.

Oh, forget the sonnet

Let’s forget the sonnet and make this a list with 15 items. Obviously, if this were a poem it would be called a rondeau. (OK, I had to google it.)

Here’s one more Canadian woman writer we should all know.

Ellen S. Jaffe. She grew up in the U.S. but moved to Canada as a young adult and lived there ever since, becoming a Canadian citizen in 1993. Ellen has written books of poetry, a book to help writers find their way, and a book for young adults. She has edited two anthologies and her work has been included in numerous anthologies, including two focusing on older women and one that features poets – like Ellen – who came to Canada during the Vietnam War era.

Almost 20 years ago I heard Ellen read a poem about an octopus. I can still recall the feeling of being in an audience full of women writers, all of us rapt and silent, captivated by the dark power of her poetry. Browse through Ellen’s website and you’ll get a glimpse of her talent.

Ellen S. Jaffe

Ellen S. Jaffe


6 thoughts on “Got Canadians?

  1. Thanks for the list. I have read and loved books by both Nalo Hopkinson and Eden Robinson. I recommend them highly. I discovered Canadian women writers through the Canadian Broadcasting Service Books which is impressively diverse in the books it discusses.


  2. This is such a wonderful, diverse list! I’m a huge fan of Dionne Brand’s poetry. Ann-Marie Macdonald’s writing is great too, I’ve been meaning to read more of her work.


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