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Building Quebec’s literary landscape

Take one look at L’actualité magazine’s list of “new voices that are shaking up the Quebec novel,” and you’ll quickly see that McGill-trained writers and professors are storming the literary scene. Almost a quarter of the 35 listed novelists have a McGill connection.

Among them is Olivia Tapiero, an undergraduate McGill student who at just 19 years old became the youngest ever winner of the Robert-Cliche prize for a first novel, for Les murs. That was in 2009, a memorable year for McGill’s Department of French Language and Literature as three graduates were finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Award in the French-language fiction category: Nadine Bismuth for Êtes-vous mariée à un psychopathe?, Dominique Fortier for Du bon usage des étoiles, and the winner, Julie Mazzieri for Le Discours sur la tombe de l’idiot.

“The vitality of our department has flourished remarkably over the past 20 years,” says François Ricard, who has taught at McGill for over 40 years and was recently awarded the prestigious Killam Prize by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The Department has been home to some of Quebec’s most influential intellectuals, including Ricard, novelist Yvon Rivard and historian Yvan Lamonde, so it’s not surprising that it’s also a veritable incubator for many of Quebec’s most talented novelists, essayists and publishers. Some of the “new voices” to watch include alumna Myriam Beaudoin, Éric Dupont, a lecturer at McGill’s School of Continuing Studies, and Alain Farah, whose first novel, Matamore no 29, has been described by Le Monde as “audacious” and “disconcerting.”

Farah runs the Department’s creative writing program, which was founded in 1985 by Yvon Rivard.  That program has influenced many future novelists since then, and Rivard still acts as a mentor to some of his former students. “They’re a bit like my children. I feel tied to them,” he says.

One of these writers is Mélanie Vincelette, who earned the Prix Anne-Hébert in 2007 for her first novel, Crimes horticoles, and started her own publishing firm, Marchand de feuilles, while still studying at McGill. “When you want to become a writer,” she says, “your dreams don’t seem attainable at first. But then Yvon Rivard gives you faith by telling you that if you want something in life, it is always within your reach!”

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