No love for Mordecai Richler

Hollywood may be reading the Canadian icon but university students are not

Even nine years after his death, Mordecai Richler can’t seem to get a break.

Just one day after the local government in Richler’s old neighbourhood announced that they would not be naming anything after him, the Globe and Mail is reporting that his works aren’t being taught at Canadian universities.

Well, it’s not quite as black and white as the Globe makes it out to be, but it’s still concerning.

At Montreal’s Concordia University, a school which claims to take particular pride in the city that surrounds it, only one course has any Richler as required reading and that’s a religion course on Jewish literature, not an English class.

According to the Globe, students at Montreal’s other English-language university, McGill, are only reading one Richler book, The Street, in a course on urban writing.

Ironically, despite the almost complete lack of Richler works being taught at McGill, the university’s writer-in-residence program is named for Richler.

Several other universities and colleges are teaching his work, but they’re few and far between and when his work is taught it’s generally in classes where his exclusion would be almost impossible, like “The Worlding of Canadian Fiction Since 1967,” a class at the University of New Brunswick.

It’s hard to say what’s causing this lack of Richler in the classroom, although it does seem like his works were taught more often in the past, it may just be that he’s back in the public eye with a film based on his novel Barney’s Version arriving in theaters soon and the TV documentary on his life that premiered last week.

But while Richler is being taught in some Canadian and Jewish literature classes, Canadian universities don’t seem to be teaching his works anywhere else.

It’s not just Richler though. It’s been a while since I took a literature class (and I’ve never taken a Canadian literature class) but since high school — and quite probably earlier than that — the only Canadian writer I’ve read in an academic setting has been Margaret Atwood. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the Globe reports that studies of Atwood’s work have received more research grants than those of any other Canadian author. There’s nothing wrong with this, Atwood is a great writer, but there should be room on the shelf for a little bit of Richler beside her.

Canada has had a vibrant literary community for decades, too bad you couldn’t tell from looking at academia.