Broken Pencil’s EXPANDED Anti CanLit Reading List

Sick of “Canlit” in the traditional sense? We know we are! Our editors have picked a few (hopefully) refreshing alternatives to the same old stuff you’ve been assigned in English class. Now with several new suggestions from BP founder, Hal and an extra one from Assistant Editor Jonathan Valelly! See if you can guess whose is whose.



Emma Healy

Healey’s crypto-biographic collection of poems  Begin with the End in Mind was so good we put her on the cover of BP when it first came out in 2012. Since then, Healy’s penned an important anti-CanLit personal essay and continued to develop her reputation as something of a reluctant icon. We anxiously await another book from a writer whose writing is a blueprint for how to be unabashedly awkward without ever condescending into mere cuteness.

Kaie Kellough 

Poet, musician and now novelist Kaie Kellough has made a name for himself as a fierce critic of the status quo, CanLit and Canadian, and an ever fiercer experimentalist. His new book Accordéon, set in a restive Montreal in dialogue with that monolithic arbiter of taste and power the Ministry of Culture, is both his best work yet and one that seems eerily prescient.

Ken Sparling

Sparling is the anti-CanLit incarnate. His books are plotless, ahistorical and provide little in the way of moral or grand lesson. They are set, generally, in the nowhere of living space/office/mall/mirrorinthebathroom. They are spare, despairing and usually pretty funny. Sparling writes about emptiness and in doing so he conveys more about the true nature of 21st century Canadian life on the cusp of collapse than all the dystopian Atwoodian novels glued together.

Farzana Doctor

Farzana is the author of the awesome Stealing Nasreen as well as Six Metres of Pavement and All Inclusive. Her writing brings nuance to cultural misunderstandings, makes magic out of mistakes, and kind of makes you fall in love with her characters, sometimes awkward, sometimes sexy, but always true to life.  She also coordinated the Brockton Writers Series in Toronto, working tirelessly to support emerging writers in the West End.

Helen Marshall

Thanks in part to the Toronto-based publisher ChiZine Publications, Canada is developing a healthy crop of world-renowned weird, fantastic and horror genre writers. Writer and academic Helen Marshall is one of my favourites in this group. Her short story collections, Hair Side, Flesh Side and Gifts for the One Who Comes After are both published by Chizine and explore everyday scenarios that become magical or horrific (and sometimes both). In Marshall’s world, women discover lost manuscripts by Jane Austen hidden under their skin, suburban child magicians receive dangerous comeuppances, and small towns become mysteriously plagued by obscure and fatal omens. Marshall is a beautiful and highly imaginative writer – her stories will leave you exhilarated and maybe a little scarred. Buy her work here. (Alison Lang)

Ayelet Tsabari

Tsabari’s award-winning debut collection of short fiction The Best Place on Earth largely centers around the lives of Israel’s Mizrahi Jews – mothers, grandmothers, lovers, soldiers. While each story is accordingly woven through with questions of cultural tradition, conflict and history, it’s Tsabari’s empathetic voice and masterful grip on the art of the short story that rings through and makes this collection exceptional. Riveting, enlightening and indispensable. Buy the book here. (Alison Lang)

Rebecca Rosenblum

Rosemblum’s first short-story collection Once has been out for awhile now – it was published in 2008 by Biblioasis – and she’s has written a bunch of stuff since then, including her forthcoming novel So Much Love, but my love for Once is deep and abiding that I still think about its characters years later. Rosenblum’s prose is so simple and spare and profoundly lovely. It feels like she’s not writing as much as inhabiting the bodies and minds of people who already exist – while maintaining a wry and gentle detachment with regards to their mistakes, their naivete, their aimlessness.  As a result, these 16 stories about different types of people living and working (mostly in Toronto) find profundity and emotional resonance through urban routine, twentysomething ennui and the mundane. Buy her book here. (Alison Lang)

Katherena Vermette

Katherena Vermette’s North End Love Songs may have won the Governor General’s award, but it’s far from your standard Canadiana fare. Stories of the pain and resilience of Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg’s North End shine through sparsely worded poems. She’s also got a series of kids’ books under her wing, and her first novel, The Break, was released this Fall by Anansi. Buy her books here.  (Jonathan Valelly)

Richard Van Camp

Although his classic novel The Lesser Blessed entered into some parts of the Canadian psyche, particularly after its film adaptation, Richard Van Camp has published 15 books and shows no signs of stopping, including graphic novels and children’s literature. His collection of stories, Night Moves, was described in Broken Pencil as “unsettling, beautiful, and fantastical” for its blending of subtle post-colonial and feminist critiques with the eerieness of daily life in the Northwest Territories. Buy his work here. (Jonathan Valelly)