University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Canadian writer Esi Edugyan.
Esi Edugyan.

The Beauty of Language

Reading Canadian fiction and poetry helps us understand our own experience and that of others

Fiction and poetry can tell us who we are as Canadians in profoundly intimate ways, says Smaro Kamboureli, a U of T professor of English. That’s because we tend to engage with fiction, through metaphor and symbolism, on a more empathetic level than we do with politics, for example, or demographic studies. Literature brings us closer to the people outside of our own lived reality. “That’s the beauty of language,” she says. “We are able to identify with the plight or experience of someone else.”

Kamboureli, who holds the Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature, teaches at the St. George campus and says she regularly receives emails from students who feel that learning about literature has transformed how they view the world. “You see that it really touches them,” she says. “It speaks to the questions young people have about their own experiences.”

In her role as chair, Kamboureli hopes to expose the broader public to a range of Canadian authors. Each year, she organizes a free public lecture called “Literature Matters” featuring two Canadian authors. Over the course of the evening, each writer speaks about a topic related to their work and why literature matters to them. This year’s event, scheduled for late January, welcomes Esi Edugyan, the winner of the 2011 Giller Prize, and poet Karen Solie.

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