The Literary History of Alberta, Vol. 2: From the End of the War to the End of the Century,


302 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88864-324-1
DDC C810.9'97123




Reviewed by Bert Almon

Bert Almon is a professor of English at the University of Alberta and a
poet. He is the author of Calling Texas, Earth Prime, and Mind the Gap.


A literary history of a single province, and a thinly populated one at
that, may seem too parochial. George Melnyk is very conscious of this
problem; indeed, he is noticeably defensive and frequently uses
prestigious literary theorists to justify his enterprise. And an
enterprise it is: Melnyk’s range of reading is remarkable, and his two
well-illustrated volumes come with lengthy bibliographies. Melnyk admits
in his preface that he had to be severely reductive in order to create a
coherent narrative. In fact, the reductionism tends to undermine the
narrative, especially in his second volume, where a chronological
account is replaced by a generic approach. The second volume goes
through the literary forms and provides brief comments on a great number
of writers. It seems unlikely that any recent Alberta writer has been
omitted from the book, but far too many of them receive only a single
sentence. Considering the number of writers, errors are few. The
distinguished poet Rhona McAdam has been transformed into a Rhonda.

One of Melnyk’s strengths is his awareness of diversity. Part of his
avowedly postmodern approach involves showing an awareness of multiple
and contradictory narratives. He begins with the pictographs at
Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta and discusses other
aboriginal texts. And he is eager to show the contributions of various
ethnic groups to Alberta writing. Also commendable is the section in
Volume 2 on writing in languages other than English. Literary
organizations and presses, part of what is now called the Institution of
Literature, are not neglected. Melnyk has an awareness as well of the
influence of political forces like continentalism (which he clearly
disapproves of) on the self-conception of Albertans.

This is a large effort, carried out doggedly and with an awareness of
theoretical and political issues. The existence of a body of excellent
writing in Alberta is undeniable, but it remains to be seen whether
Melnyk’s work will encourage a consciousness of Alberta writing as an
important branch of Canadian literature.


Melnyk, George., “The Literary History of Alberta, Vol. 2: From the End of the War to the End of the Century,,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,