Playing the CanLit game

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Before I get down to business, I just want to confess something: I am in no way affiliated with CanLit. I have not written a book. I’m not sure I ever will, because while my ’90s-inspired erotic fanfiction is a huge crowd-pleaser, I can’t make a novel about it.

As an outsider to CanLit, my favourite hobby is tormenting Margaret Atwood on Twitter. For those who don’t know, Atwood is one of the many famous CanLit superstars who signed a letter supporting an alleged sexual abuser.

Called “An Open Letter To UBC: Steven Galloway’s Right to Due Process,” the letter requested due process and fair treatment for Galloway, as being accused of sexual assault was negatively impacting his well-being and reputation.

I’m of the camp that believes victims and also of the mindset that when you sexually assault someone, your personal comfort is no longer relevant. And so with one little signature, Margaret Atwood went from a mildly problematic hero of mine to fully problematic nemesis.

She isn’t the only one who signed this letter.

For many young writers, this letter was the straw that broke the camel’s back. (Note: I’ve never used that idiom before, but I finally found the perfect time to do it!) I am by no means a CanLit celebrity. I’m not even on the D-list. Margaret Atwood has never heard of me, unless she actually reads my tweets after all. If she does, I hope she’ll reply sometime, because I have a lot I’d like to talk to her about.

No, I am not on the CanLit radar in any capacity. But my friends are. My enemies are. My frenemies are. And CanLit – not theatre – was the community in which I was first propositioned in the style of Harvey Weinstein.

To be clear, it was an abuse of power that never went farther than being a gross proposition. I was protected from the worst of it, thanks to a circle of people watching out for me. I never ended up accepting his offer or playing his game. But I still haven’t written a book, either.

My friendship with that person is limited to public appearance where the unspoken rule is that everyone must get along. When I see him again, I often wonder what I will say. Will I confront him? Will I challenge him? Will I use my knowledge and experience to protect other emerging artists from him?

The reality is, I probably won’t, because I actually can’t. My hand of cards is too small. Either I stay in the game and play it as best I can in the hopes of someday being in a position to effect real change in these messed up structures and institutions, or I fold and do… I don’t even know what.

As a racialized person, and a woman, my entire life has been about learning how to play the game. All of my education, my training and lived experience has been, in one way or another, a focused attempt to stack my own deck and make myself a contender within colonizer systems.

I have a seat at the table now, and after standing for what feels like an eternity, I am so ready to sit down. I feel guilty for that, and ashamed, but, like, I’ve got blisters. We all need and deserve a break. And I’m still bothering Margaret Atwood on Twitter, even if it’s from a seated position. I’ll never give up on that. I promise.

Published in Volume 72, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2017)

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