By 10:00 on Saturday, Room 301 at the Halifax Central Library was full of people waiting for Leo Glavine, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage to kick off a panel discussion called “Reading Nova Scotia: The Global Attraction of Our Hyperlocal.” The discussion, moderated by author Trevor J Adams and featuring author Theresa Meuse, publisher Terrilee Bulger and author Alexander MacLeod, accompanied the announcement of the compilation and publication of “Reading Nova Scotia: 150 Books of Influence.”
By the time Glavine started speaking, just about everyone in the room was clutching a copy of the catalogue, which highlights a diverse list of books deemed influential and culturally relevant by Nova Scotia’s readers, librarians, and publishers. A quick flip reveals a wide range of books from all corners of the province, including El Jones’ Live from the Afrikan Resistance!, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, and Tom Ryan’s Way to Go.
Ryan was doing a reading in the library’s Creative Lab, while the Reading Nova Scotia panel was happening, so he didn’t realize he’d landed on the list until he checked his phone after the reading. “I was aware that this was going on earlier in the summer and then I kind of forgot it was happening,” says Ryan. “I never expected to be on the list, so to be honest it was kind of overwhelming and exciting, and just such an honour. It completely caught me off guard.”
Jones and Beaton were equally unaware; neither knew they had books on the list until we asked them for interviews. Luckily, they had a day to process the news before talking to us about it.
When asked to share her reaction, Beaton commented on the province’s remarkable literary contributions. “This is a great literary pocket of the country and anything from Rockbound to No Great Mischief, there’s some really fantastic stuff that’s come out of here over the ages,” she says. “Just to be included in the list of notables is very, very nice.”
Jones was pleased by wide range of genres on the list. “Spoken word is not something that’s typically considered literature on the same level as so-called real literature,” she says. “I think it’s a really nice move to recognize the importance of spoken word. As far as influence goes, if people consider what I do influential, I’m glad of that. When I started doing poetry, people thought I was being very political, particularly as a Black woman saying these things. It’s nice to see that things have progressed to the point where people appreciate the voice and are willing to hear the message.”
Our evolving literary landscape was something MacLeod commented on during the panel discussion, when he talked about the fresh perspectives of Nova Scotia life that are starting to emerge in recent literature. He specifically pointed to Ryan’s Way to Go and its protagonist’s experience as an LGBTQ teen living in Cape Breton.
“I’ve been quite dedicated to writing fiction for queer teens,” says Ryan. “I try to give voice to LGBTQ teenagers who, for many, many decades, haven’t been as represented in fiction as they should be. It’s been important for me to write about teenagers who come from small towns like the one where I grew up, and so I think it’s fabulous that there’s a title that’s for and about all teenagers, but especially teenagers who are questioning their sexual identity.”
For Jones, her presence on the list is additional confirmation that she made the right choice in giving her book a specific focus rather thanchoosing a range of poems on different topics. “I have poems about women’s issues, I have poems about poverty, I have poems about all kinds of things, but when I started doing the book, I was thinking ‘Well, you should probably make sure it’s a mix so that people don’t think you’re all about one thing,’” she explains. “And then I decided, ‘why should Black people have to apologize for being Black or water that down?’ So, in that sense, it’s a really strong Black book in that it’s an unapologetically Black book, a deliberately Black book.”
“I’m proud of that, and if it’s influential, the message I would want is for people, whatever you represent, do not be apologetic about you want to say and how you say it. I hope that’s one of the effects that people take out of it.”
Of course, the catalogue is just a starting point for exploring the literary talent coming out of Nova Scotia.
“I’ve always found Nova Scotia to be very proud of its art output,” says Beaton. “Musicians are the obvious example, but literature as well. We really hold our own in those ways. I think that even if the economy is falling apart, there’s no shortage of talent here.”