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  • Herb Wyile
  • Tony Tremblay (bio)

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Herb Wyile, 1961-2016

"The large print giveth and the small print taketh away."

Tom Waits

Speaking in the past tense about a very close colleague is never easy – doubly so when that colleague was struck down in the prime of an incredibly productive and meaningful life.

Herb Wyile was a professor of English at Acadia University who died in July 2016 after a very short illness. He was a husband and father, and a friend to many in the Atlantic Canadian scholarly community. Moreover, he was a man of abundant and healthy contradictions, an academic who was uneasy in the bureaucratized academy, a Maritime nationalist who was wary of place-based tribalism, and a champion of the literary who always felt confined by English departments. He was, in short, uncomfortable with anything that had hardened into dogma or certainty. [End Page 242] He was also avuncular, a role he not so much grew into in middle age but always displayed in his dealings with others. A long-time warrior in the sessional trenches, he was unfailingly generous to his peers, the very people with whom he would have to compete for the few jobs in his field that opened. As his colleague Dan Coleman remembered, Herb did what was right, regardless of the circumstance: Herb shared his CanLit Survey class notes with Dan, who had just finished his doctoral studies at the University of Alberta, so that Dan could teach that course, even though Herb, also a sessional, was more qualified and had more of a right to teach it.

The Herb we came to know was, not surprisingly, an uncompromising moralist who built a career on challenging various truths about our region. In his first edited book, A Sense of Place: Re-evaluating Regionalism in Canadian and American Writing (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1998), he took up the cause of literary regionalism amidst a formidable regime of textual scholars from the West whose dismissive theoretical authority sought to erase us. Likewise in Speculative Fictions: Contemporary Canadian Novelists and the Writing of History (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's Press, 2002) and Speaking in the Past Tense: Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), he championed the efforts of Canadian writers who were reimagining history, thus doing his part to support authors who were resuscitating the literary from the sterile realms of stereotype and celebrity. In that regard, he was especially fond of Newfoundland writers, who insisted that identity formation was a negotiation between a creative community and that community's unease with its own past.

Anne of Tim Hortons (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011), however, is his definitive statement. In that book, subtitled Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature, Herb shows the disconnect between what people assume about our region (hence the "Anne" in the title) and what contemporary Atlantic Canada writers are actually saying. Globalization, he argues, licenses a free market liberalism that ignores the histories of structural disadvantage in an effort to move capital to tax free and low wage zones, actions that have changed the nature of federalism's social contract, worsened the broader attitude toward Maritimers, and robbed our region of many of its primary industries. Evident in the literature he discusses are the consequences: stories of broken lives, economic hardship, and social ruin. But evident, too, as he is careful to point out, are the triumphs and positive dispositions, one of the most powerful a long-standing resistance to the deracinating forces that negate regional identification and affinity. And it is from that instinct to oppose – whether with wit and humour, taking back our own histories, or fortifying our communities against normative instances of neoliberal common sense – that Maritime durability and the affections for place are built. [End Page 243] Herb Wyile was thus an unusually attentive scholar whose faith was ultimately in communities of writers, scholars, and citizens to reinvent the country by reimagining its histories of colonialism, racism, stereotyping, and division. To that end, he was unfailingly consistent, his early work on literary regionalism of a piece with...


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pp. 242-247
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