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LYNETTE HUNTER After Modernism: Alternative Voices in the Writings of Dionne Brand, Claire Harris, and Marlene Philip As Lorris Elliott notes in the introduction to Literary Writing by Blacks in Canada, there has been an 'outburst of literary activity by Blacks in Canada,l since the 19705, and the three writers discussed here are part of that Loutburst.' Some of this recent activity2 comes from Canadianborn writers such as Maxine Tynes and George Elliott Clarke, part comes from immigrants from the United States, England, South America, and Africa, and part comes from the community arriving from the Caribbean." Dionne Brand, Claire Harris, and Marlene Philip, whose work I approach in this essay, all come from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and each develops a writing that raises three tightly associated issues: race, access, and the appropriateness of the verbal tradition, literary or linguistic, to their writing. Race and racism are among the most important issues for the Black writing community in Canada, and any of its readers including myself. They underpin the questions of access which I have defined elsewhere for my study as the field of 'marginalized' writings: access to education, to writing~ to creative tuition in verbal craft, to publication, marketing, and distribution, to reviews and audiences, and to rewards - the gTants, tours~ readings, and all the publicity paraphernalia that make the next book possible.4 It also defines many of the specific grounds on which these writers discuss questions of literary voice, authenticity~ and community. The complex process of learning about race and racism is intended explicitly to structure this essay as it engages with the skill and specific invitation or generosity of each writer, and it should be said here that no answers can be offered. It also needs to be said here at the start that the issue of access to literacy and print is of utmost importance,S particularly in the context of Canadian education, which provides extensive literacy programs," and the possibility of training in creative writing and composition from primary, through secondary, to tertiary education.7 However, what this discussion wi11 focus on is how Black women writers, who have gained that access, use it to develop a specific response to the problems of writing within a culture that is experienced as alien because of colour, gender, and class; and how they balance the need clearly and immediately to tell and retell a history more appropriate to their memories than the one on offer from the culture in power, with the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1992/3 AFTER MODERNISM 257 pressing demand to extend the processes of self-definition and authentic voice within current literary conventions. Brand, Harris, and Philip are each faced with the question of how to write within a verbal tradition that has never encouraged expression of their experience and indeed has often actively repressed it. Furthermore, these writers also know that to get published it is necessary to stay broadly within that tradition/ and that unless they do so, their potential audience will be restricted, their traditionally educated readers will not know how to read their work. But once access has been gained, there is an opportunity for trying out a new voice, making a new way of reading. Brand, Harris, and Philip address this possibility in different ways. Acutely aware of how language, narrative, and poetics contain them as writers within the institutional structures that wield power, all are concerned to find a way to position themselves with regard to that power. In various ways, the works also make it possible for different readers to position themselves, an'd some of those positions will be enabled and others aHenated. Both are necessary to begin to extend friendship.9 This essay is concerned with the way that each of the three writers can be read as starting with modernism's potential for generating 'other' communities and alternative histories, and with the ways that each responds with a variety of literary strategies to the recognition of the problems implicit in modernism's universalism and claims to fixity and essential identity. In doing so each writer attempts a different stance from that called for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 256-281
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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