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September/October 2003
Vol. 35, no. 5
ISSN 1492-4676

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Canadian Writers Web Site

Risë Segall, Research and Information Services

The May seminar in Library and Archives Canada’s monthly SAVOIR FAIRE lecture series previewed the new Canadian Writers Web site. This site, one of many in the Digital Library of Canada’s Literature section, features samples from the extraordinary collection of literary manuscripts housed at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The first phase of this project celebrates the lives and works of Marie-Claire Blais, Roger Lemelin, Carol Shields and Michel Tremblay.

In her former role as manager of program development with LAC’s Digital Library Task Force, Susan Haigh, Senior Policy Officer, Library and Archives Canada, offered the audience a tantalizing preview of the Canadian Writers site as well as insight into the creative, editorial and technical challenges involved in bringing the project to life.

The selection of writers for phase one of the project involved a number of considerations: achievements, significance and profile of the writers as well as the scope of their fonds. As a first step, permissions were obtained and the participation of scholarly experts was arranged. Library and Archives Canada was very fortunate to have the collaboration of expert curators David Staines (Carol Shields), Marcel Olscamp (Claude Lemelin), Dominique Lafon (Michel Tremblay) and Marie Couillard (Marie-Claire Blais).

The curators were given latitude to reflect and interpret the fonds as they saw fit and were encouraged to showcase interesting aspects of the writers and their creative processes. The curators prepared contextual essays and selected the images to be used. It is interesting to note that while the living authors were given the opportunity to choose images, in all cases they entrusted the choice to the curators.

The section for each writer includes a brief biographical sketch; a contextual essay; a gallery of selected images of manuscripts, rough drafts, illustrations, journal entries, photographs, notebook pages, letters and ephemera. A list of other resources, including bibliographies and Web sites about the writer, is also provided.

The Authors

Marie-Claire Blais

Canadian Writers showcases the personal handwritten notebooks of one of Quebec’s most important post-modern writers, Marie-Claire Blais. Vibrant and colourful, the notebooks include watercolours, gouaches and coloured pencil drawings. Along with her lavishly illustrated journals and diaries, sketches and paintings, other items from her fonds that are incorporated in the site include notes for works in progress, for example, a series of re-writes for Visions d’Anna, which show Blais’ method of self-editing.

Roger Lemelin

Library and Archives Canada’s holdings for Roger Lemelin, Quebec novelist, essayist, journalist, intellectual, and editor of La Presse, cover all phases of his career. The fonds includes handwritten notebooks, drafts, engravings and sketches, scripts for radio and television programs, correspondence and newspaper clippings. The Canadian Writers Web site traces the evolution and various media versions of Lemelin’s highly popular Les Plouffe  -  first a novel, then a popular radio drama and finally a weekly television show. A delightful video clip brings Les Plouffe to life on the computer screen. Samples of Lemelin’s correspondence, rough notes, manuscripts and commentaries can also be found on the site.

Michel Tremblay

The section of Canadian Writers devoted to the celebrated Quebec novelist and playwright Michel Tremblay includes costume sketches, promotional materials for plays, and excerpts from Les Belles-Soeurs and Albertine en cinq temps. The Michel Tremblay fonds held at Library and Archives Canada includes manuscripts and typescripts of plays and novels, unpublished texts, production records, translations of several of his works, adaptations by Tremblay, audio tapes, photographs and memorabilia.

Carol Shields

Extensive and rich, the Carol Shields fonds of Library and Archives Canada includes professional and personal correspondence; the early drafts of all of her books (with the exception of Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision); manuscripts of book reviews, unpublished works, essays and short stories; clippings and interviews; university teaching records; memorabilia, including old photos, diaries and daybooks; and interviews with Shields both on video and audiotape. These materials reflect the full range of Shields’s activities as writer, critic, public figure, teacher and family member and reflect her professional recognition and international popularity as an author.

The Canadian Writers Web site features manuscript and typescript excerpts from Shields’s Republic of Love and Coming to Canada and showcases the evolution of a chapter within Larry’s Party. A finding aid for the fonds will also be available on the site.

After presenting the sections on each of the four authors, Susan Haigh provided an overview of the development of the Canadian Writers Web site, during which she paid tribute to Susan Globensky, the project manager responsible for the site, who skillfully shepherded the four-part site through its many phases. She also explained that several factors were key to the success of the initiative: copyright permissions, the support and collaboration of the authors and their representatives, the authoritative contributions from scholars, the support of the archivists from the Literary Manuscript Collection and a trusted digitization process that uses appropriate conservation methods.

Haigh noted that the site has been designed for expandability. The intention is to extend the site to include sections on additional authors whose fonds are held at Library and Archives Canada, for example, Phyllis Webb, Louis Dudek, Elizabeth Smart, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau and Jacques Brault. Existing sites on Gabrielle Roy and Stephen Leacock may also be incorporated into the Canadian Writers site in the future.

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The new Canadian Writers site is one of the many Digital Library of Canada offerings in the area of literature. We invite you to visit these rich and varied resources relating to Canadian literature, authors and illustrators, publishers and publishing.

You many also wish to consult Literary Manuscripts: A Guide to the Literary Fonds at the National Library of Canada.