Prairie and paratext: Contesting voices in early twentieth-century Canadian literary production

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
In “Black w/Holes” M. Nourbese Philip comments upon the psychic border that “prohibits or limits” the entry of racialized bodies into what she refers to as “wilderness spaces.” By focusing on literary constructions of the Canadian prairie, this project identifies early twentieth-century Canadian literary production as a site of contestation, where such psychological barriers were either upheld or challenged by writers, critics, and publishers. While twentieth-century critics consecrated the work of white prairie writers (Frederick Philip Grove, Martha Ostenso, Laura Salverson, and Robert Stead) this project seeks to re-centre the textual work of two mixed-race writers who resided in Calgary in the 1920s: Winnifred Eaton (Chinese and English) and Buffalo Child Long Lance (Lumbee and Cherokee). Remembered by subsequent critics as “racial imposters,” Eaton and Long Lance adopted alternate literary personae (as the Japanese writer Onoto Watanna and as a Kainai chief, respectively) as a way of interrogating legal and social categories of racial and Indigenous difference. This project shows how their prairie-centric writings reveal and reflect their conflicted subjectivities, thus calling into question colonial epistemologies. In addition, by examining the paratextual apparatuses surrounding Eaton and Long Lance’s textual interventions (book design, prefatory materials, critical reviews), this project amplifies this moment’s tenor of tension and dissent, when conflicted voices existed in tense relation with the colonizing aims of white settler publishers, editors, and critics. By reading Eaton and Long Lance in confluence with each other and in conjunction with two other under-examined writers of the early twentieth-century period (Anahareo, Christine van der Mark), this project raises the following questions: what literary linkages have been neglected by critics and what do these linkages reveal? How do Eaton and Long Lance’s works illuminate new ways of conceiving human movements and interactions, beyond the limiting language of nationhood?
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Thesis advisor: Gerson, Carole
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