When you come to a new country, you are already made up of your former country’s literature. It informs you. It forms you. It provides the cultural structure with which you build interactions and meaning, with which you talk and make assertions and interact with other people.
As an American, then, what writers have created me? Which writers are part of my point of view and my experience?
I am made up of American writers, John Irving, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Madeleine L’Engle, Ron Hansen, Andre Dubus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Julia Alvarez, Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Stan Lee, Eugene O’Neill, Steven Spielberg, John Steinbeck, L. Frank Baum, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sherman Alexie, Thomas Jefferson, J.D. Salinger, Ha Jin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kenny Rogers, Junot Diaz, Allen Ginsburg, Marilynne Robinson, Stephen Foster, Jack London, Herman Melville, Bruce Springsteen, Anne Lamott, George Lucas, Stephen Crane, the Dixie Chicks, Katherine Anne Porter, Ralph Ellison, Gregory Maguire, Toni Morrison, Li-Young Lee, Sheryl Crow, Orson Welles, Theodore Roethke, Mark Doty, Sandra Cisneros, Michael Chabon, Langston Hughes, Robert Bly, and Theodore Roosevelt.
These writers and more are in my cultural physiography. You can see that I included songwriters, comic book creators, essayists, and movie writers/creators. They contribute to our literature too.
Sometimes foreign texts can also be adopted (or can immigrate) to a country and become national texts. So, I am also a product of my father’s sermons, writing that affected me every week, which was based on a Jewish and Greek text, cobbled together by Brits, brought over to the Americas by the Pilgrims, informing the Founding Fathers, and baptized as American literature by Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Charles Stanley. It affected Nathaniel Hawthorne to John Steinbeck and beyond.
I think we are made up, in part, as well, of all the writers from outside our country that we have read— like Plato, Homer, Virgil, Dostoevsky, the Beowulf writer, a thousand British writers like Wells, Shelley and Shelley, Chaucer, Defoe, Stevensen, Woolf, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Grahame, Ishiguro, Rowling and Pratchett, and all of World Literature, especially Europeans (because the American version of World Lit is heavily focused on European writers) like Goethe, Cervantes, Hermann Hesse, Kafka, as well as beyond Europe with the writers of 1001 Nights, the Mahabharata, and Journey to the West. While not speaking of the American experience, they contextualize us in the human experience. I carry a little Socrates and a little Crusoe with me. I’ve also got a lot of Faust to go with my helping of American Southern Baptist doctrine….and it mixes with some hobbits, some Frankenstein and some Canterbury Tales very nicely.
Now, which books are you made of? Which texts have taught you how to live as a Canadian? Or have reflected your experience? Which books stay in your heart and memory because they resonated with you?
Write some down. Write the ones that mean something to you. Why these books? How have they created or reflected something essential about you, or about being Canadian?