Sounding Differences: Conversations with Seventeen Canadian Women Writers // Review

Article excerpt

Moving across these interviews with Canadian women writers...continuing to return to phrases, paragraphs that pull me in...hearing in their words the echoes of other conversations, in other textual, pedagogical places. Many of these women's words re/call to me memories of their previous writings; a few, I come to unfamiliar, expectant. To read these (textual) conversations is to weave and journey through "a process of thinking/speaking/writing...intended to expose an exploratory series of fluid dialogues over time" (p. xii).

Janice Williamson speaks of the 17 interviews collected in(to) this text in the same breath as women's conversational gossip--recognizing in both the potential for disrupting authorized lines around knowledge production. She does not, however, create this as an unproblematic and cozy space, but grapples with the inherent power relation between writer and critic. In her efforts to de-stabilize the authority of "the interviewer," she describes a process of attending to how she figures herself in the conversations:

t]hroughout the interview process I became increasingly conscious of when, as a White bisexual bourgeois woman on my best behaviour (somewhat dutiful and "good"), institutional privilege and public voice became available to me (p. xiii).

Much more than a self-reflexive glance, Williamson makes a serious attempt to keep seeing and hearing herself critically throughout the interviews.

For readers who are largely unfamiliar with the issues explored in the collection, it is likely to be an evocative introduction to some exciting and important aspects of feminist inquiry. For those who are themselves in the midst of the struggles named here, there are many moments to savour.

One of the strengths of the collection is its attentiveness to the impacts of race and sexual differences on women('s) writing. These dialogues take a number of shapes: Williamson reflecting on her position as a White feminist critic in dialogues with Claire Harris and Lee Maracle; Lola Lemire Tostevin's attempts to re/examine heterosexual women's desire(s); racism in the publishing industry, often explored here through the Women's Press/Second Story Press controversy (reading in 1994, I also hear echoes to the debates around the "Writing Thru Race" conference). The impact of class on language and writing is explored far less consistently in the interviews--perhaps not surprising, given the limited attention this issue tends to receive in Canadian feminist literary theorizing. An exception to this is the interview with Erin Moure, which, incidentally, I found to be one of the most provocative, bringing a sustained and challenging perspective to the collection.

A series of other issues are, however, continuously brought to the surface: the complex and differing interpretations on the relationship(s) between women's writing and women's bodies (see, for example, the interviews with Nicole Brossard and Jeannette Armstrong); the issues raised in writing across communities (Di Brandt's discussion of her engagement with feminist and Mennonite communities is fascinating); the responsibility of readers in the sometimes painstaking process of making-sense of "the unfamiliar" (Gail Scott is, as always, eloquent on this topic); where and how writing meets--and repels from--political activism (Joy Kogawa's struggles with these issues are note-worthy). …