Close Reading and Creative Rewriting
All projects must promote greater opportunity within and equal access to Canada’s arts and cultural institutions for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds; must encourage and foster the development of the creative arts as a vehicle for the expression of heritage cultures in Canada and as a creative expression of Canadian multiculturalism; and must support and promote projects that reflect and/or foster appreciation of the cultural diversity of Canadian society.
—Call for Applications, Canadian Multiculturalism Program (qtd. in Blades 52)
The above paragraph states the publicly advertised eligibility criteria for multiculturalism funding through the former Writing and Publications Program (WPP). In this exercise you will close read the funding policy of the WPP, analyzing how it conveys its objectives through language, evaluating its criteria in light of your analysis, and rewriting the statement on your own terms.
- Analyze. Close read these criteria meticulously to clearly establish what the WPP sought to fund. Scrutinize the language for the values it conveys. Pay attention to the key verbs (action words help clarify what is being enacted), and note any ambiguities (what, exactly, is a “creative expression of Canadian multiculturalism,” for example?).
- Evaluate. Based on your analysis, how do you feel about these criteria? What kinds of projects do they invite? Conversely, what types of writing do they foreclose? Whose interests are being served by these criteria?
- Re-write. How would you revise these criteria if you were a policy maker today in the government’s multiculturalism directorate? Imagine you are. In 100 words or less, creatively re-write this paragraph to articulate funding priorities that reflect what you feel deserves to be supported through a “multiculturalism” program.
Critical Analysis and Discussion
In his 2006 Canadian Literature editorial “Am I a Canadian Writer?,” M. G. Vassanji discusses his experiences being labelled a “multicultural” author. Vassanji, one of Canada’s most renowned writers, is a Canadian citizen and part of the South Asian diaspora: he was born in Kenya, raised in Tanzania, went to university in the US, and immigrated to Canada in 1978 (he identifies himself as “African Asian Canadian”). He was also a recipient of WPP grants, which supported his establishment of the literary journal The Toronto South Asian Review, his organization of important conferences on South Asian writing, and his own successful writing as a novelist; in fact, Judy Young cites Vassanji’s career explicitly as among the earliest and most important examples of the WPP’s success.
Read Vassanji’s editorial, noting connections to our focus in this chapter on distinctions between multicultural/mainstream Canadian writing, and on multiculturalism’s management of culture and ethnicity. Then consider the following questions, drawing on one or more of the arguments in the “Scholarship” section of this chapter.
- In light of Vassanji’s thoughts on how multiculturalism has shaped the reception of his literature, what do you make of Judy Young’s claim that he represents a success of official multiculturalism’s “ethnic-specific” (113) policy and programs?
- Why does Vassanji feel it necessary to state, in frustration, “I am no more ethnic than you are” (7)? Who is the implied “you”? What does this statement suggest about the way multiculturalism constructs ethnicity?
- Consider the way Vassanji resists the expectation that he is a “professional multiculturalist” (8). In your experience reading and studying Canadian literature, are there expectations placed on stories from racialized or “multicultural” writers to be representative of their ethnic identities or cultural communities? You might consider how texts and authors are framed by, for example, book reviews, marketing and promotion materials, readers’ posts to online bookstores and social media sites like Goodreads, high school curriculum documents, university course descriptions and syllabi, or instructors.
- Blades, Joe. In the Dark: Poets and Publishing. Fredericton: Broken Jaw P, 1997. Print.
- Vassanji, M. G. “Am I a Canadian Writer?” Editorial. South Asian Diaspora. Spec. Issue of Canadian Literature 190 (2006): 7-13. Print.
- Young, Judy. “No Longer ‘Apart’: Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature.” Canadian Ethnic Studies 33.2 (2001): 88-116. Print.
Further Resources on Multiculturalism
- True Canadians: Multiculturalism in Canada Debated. Host Adrian Harewood. CBC, 14 Sept. 2004. Television.
- Abu-Laban, Yasmeen, and Christina Gabriel, eds. Selling Diversity: Immigration, Multiculturalism, Employment Equity, and Globalization. Peterborough: U of Toronto P Higher Education, 2002. Print.
- Bannerji, Himani. The Dark Side of the Nation: Essays on Multiculturalism, Nationalism and Gender. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ P, 2000. Print.
- Bissoondath, Neil. Selling Illusions: The Cult of Multiculturalism. Markham: Penguin, 1994. Print.
- Coulthard, Glen. “Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Politics of Recognition’ in Canada.” Contemporary Political Theory 6.4 (2007): 437-60. Print.
- Dawson, Carrie. “The Importance of Being Ethnic and the Value of Faking It.” Postcolonial Text 4.2 (2008): 1-10. Web. 26 Apr. 2018.
- Fish, Stanley. “Boutique Multiculturalism: Or, Why Liberals Are Incapable of Thinking about Hate Speech.” Critical Inquiry 23.2 (1997): 378-95. Print.
- Goldberg, David Theo, ed. Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader. Boston: Blackwell Publishers, 1994. Print.
- Gunew, Sneja. Haunted Nations: The Colonial Dimensions of Multiculturalisms. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
- —. “Postcolonialism and Multiculturalism: Between Race and Ethnicity.” The Yearbook of English Studies 27 (1997): 22-39. Print.
- Kamboureli, Smaro. Scandalous Bodies: Diasporic Literature in English Canada. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2000. Print.
- Kamboureli, Smaro, ed. Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literatures in English. 2nd edition. Toronto: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.
- Kamboureli, Smaro, and Roy Miki, eds. Trans.Can.Lit.: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2007. Print.
- Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.
- Mackey, Eva. House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.
- Miki, Roy. Broken Entries: Race, Subjectivity, Writing: Essays. Toronto: Mercury, 1998. Print.
- Mishra, Vijay. What Was Multiculturalism? Melbourne: Melbourne UP, 2012. Print.
- Okin, Susan Moller. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Ed. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha Nussbaum. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999. Print.
- Philip, Marlene NourbeSe. “Why Multiculturalism Can’t End Racism.” Frontiers: Selected Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture 1984-1992. Stratford, ON: Mercury, 1992. 181-86. Print.
- Taylor, Charles, and Amy Gutman, eds. Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994. Print.
- Walcott, Rinaldo. Black Like Who? Writing Black Canada. Toronto: Insomniac P, 1997. Print.
- Zizek, Slavoj. “Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic Multinational Capitalism.” New Left Review 225 (1997): 28-51. Print.