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The Best Books to Take You Through Newfoundland


When you want a fair grittier look under the hood of the capital city offered up in tourist campaigns, Megan Gail Coles’s Small Game Hunting on the Local Coward Gun Club,” Joel Thomas Hynes’s We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night or Eva Crocker’s All I Ask will do the job.

Michael Winter’s The Big Why is a fictional account of Rockwell Kent’s time in Brigus initially of the twentieth century. A totally original exploration of the artistic temperament and of the probabilities of affection, the book can also be a note-perfect portrayal of the insular, outrageously flahoolic (D.N.E.: generous) and unforgiving nature of Newfoundland’s outport communities. One among my all time favorites.

After which, in fact, there’s Labrador, which is one other world altogether. To this point, Labrador’s literature consists mostly of accounts of frontier life. Elizabeth Goudie’s “Woman of Labrador” is an unadorned record of life in a trapping family within the Twenties and ‘30s. Dillon Wallace’s narrative of the disastrous Hubbard expedition, “The Lure of the Labrador Wild,” is a classic of the (mis)adventure genre. John Steffler’s terrific novel, The Afterlife of George Cartwright,” is one among the few books to tackle the savage grandeur of Labrador in fiction, and, in Cartwright, it offers up a personality almost as large and avid because the place itself.

The voices of the Indigenous peoples who’ve lived in Labrador for 1000’s of years are, as elsewhere, underrepresented within the literature. Them Days magazine, which exists to preserve the oral history of Labrador, is one place to search out a part of that community’s story.

There’s an unwritten rule in St. John’s that a author is required to spend at the least 25 percent of any arts grant at The Ship. Or possibly that’s just the common, which makes it feel like a rule.

A nondescript pub off a steep lane between Duckworth and Water Streets, The Ship is the closest thing town has to an underground literary landmark. There’s no plaque yet, but I can attest that Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney relieved himself at one among the urinals in the boys’s. Michael Ondaatje spent an evening on the dance floor during a show by an area ska/funk/reggae band. Everyone from Daniel Lanois to Bonnie “Prince” Billy to Sarah Harmer to Fred Eaglesmith to a 10-member Bulgarian choir has performed on the tiny venue. A whole bunch of writers, local and otherwise, have read from its stage. And the bar itself makes cameo appearances in dozens of poems, stories, novels and songs.

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