This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people who are closely involved with Quebec literature on a daily basis as we continue to talk to more publishers, readers, bookstore owners, and translators to get a feel for today’s publishing scene in Quebec.
Jennifer Dummer fell in love with Quebec literature when she first came to Quebec. She began to focus on Quebec literature while studying in Berlin and Montreal, completing her studies in 2012 with an investigation of ritual in Élise Turcotte’s La maison étrangère and Guyana. She has taken part in conferences in Berlin and Rennes and soon in Innsbruck, always providing a focus on Quebec literature.
After university she started working in a Berlin press agency. Two years later, the blog quélesen was born. The blog aims to showcase the depth of a lively literary market in Quebec to German-speaking readers interested in French-language literature. In October 2014 she founded her own company to promote Quebec music and literature in Germany.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing and how did you end up starting quélesen?
I began to appreciate Quebec culture when I first went there in 2008. In the depths of the Canadian winter, I browsed a few bookstores. By the end of my stay, my bags were filled with albums and books from Quebec bands and authors. Back home in Germany, I took my time immersing myself in the world of Quebec culture and I found out I loved it.
I started to focus my studies in French literature and comparative literature on Quebec. In 2010, I got a scholarship to study for a year at Université de Montréal. It was a new, exciting experience and I took as many classes as I could to learn more about Quebec literature. It’s quite a young literature and now it’s become very varied, very much alive.
I created the quélesen blog as I read more and more Quebec literature and wanted to share my discoveries. Now I’ve gone a step further and I’m working as a literary agent.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
Quebec literature has a lot to offer and it is fun to discover. Authors are interested in issues we all are familiar or confronted with. They often try new ways of presenting their stories. Some like the idea of starting a conversation with the reader, and the reader becomes a key part of the reading and writing process. Others work culture into their books, with music, art, and so on. I like a book to be more than a well-told story.
What excites you most in the books you read?
I really do like books that make me forget my current surroundings. And I love it when I can somehow identify with a character. It’s fantastic when a story, and the style in which it is written, challenges me. And I love it when a good sentence makes me stop, reach for my notebook, and write it down. I’ve always enjoyed a reading experience whenever I’ve learned something new—about me or about the world—or when I was invited to travel and discover something I didn’t know before and wouldn’t have learned without reading about it.
What are some of the most important novels and books to come out of Quebec, in your view?
I will name some authors who have been published in the German-speaking market first: Marie-Claire Blais, Réjean Ducharme, Gilles Courtemanche, Dany Laferrière, Kim Thúy, Wajdi Mouawad, and Nicolas Dickner. Secondly, there are contemporary authors who have an interesting approach to issues that are important for the global, western world like Éric Plamondon, Élise Turcotte, and Larry Tremblay.
I’ve been reading literature from Quebec since 2008 and I was able to study the classics from Quebec at university. I enjoyed reading them because they helped me understand how the literature has developed. I really enjoyed Jacques Ferron’s work, but unfortunately he hasn’t yet been translated into German. Contemporary Quebec literature is so diverse and sometimes, because so many books are published each year, it’s hard to find the book.
From interviews, I’ve had the impression that Quebec authors are interested in literature from elsewhere and that this sometimes influences their style. They read a lot of writing from elsewhere in North America in general and they like to refer to others, with the result that their works go much further than they otherwise might.
What are some of your favourite pieces of Quebec writing?
At the moment, some of my favourite pieces are 1984 from Éric Plamondon, L’orangeraie from Larry Tremblay, and Je pense à Yu, a play from Carole Fréchette.
Literature from Quebec is not very well known in Germany because it isn’t visible enough. There is no bookstore that specializes in literature from Quebec. But there’s been a positive development in Europe with two bookstores now—one in Paris and one in Brussels—where books from Quebec are present and presented. I’m confident that Quebec literature will some day have a bigger place in the German book market because culture and the way of life in Germany and Quebec are in some ways similar.
What is your favourite book from Quebec?
One of my favourite books is La maison étrangère by Élise Turcotte. I like her way of writing. Next to La maison étrangère, I have other books in my personal library here, too. I would love to see her translated into German some day. If I were a translator, I would have done it myself. But who knows, maybe the time will come and I will do it myself.
If you were to recommend that someone who has never read anything from Quebec pick up a book and start reading it today, which book would it be?
There are two kinds of recommendations I can give, depending on what type of books that person would like to discover. First, to learn about Quebec or feel as though they have been transported there, I can recommend La Brûlerie by Émile Ollivier and Nikolski from Nicolas Dickner. Both make me relive my time spent in Montreal whenever I read them.
But Quebec literature is about more than just life in Quebec and is not limited by geography. So I can also recommend Vertiges by Fredric Gary Comeau and La vie littéraire by Mathieu Arsenault. If you gave me the time to go on, my list of recommendations would turn into a never-ending story. But I guess that’s what we are working on with our blogs. We both focus on literature that’s made in Quebec, showing how rich and diverse it is, that there’s something for everyone worth discovering.