Well, it's been an interesting twelve months since last year's top ten (and I'm kicking myself for wasting the opening "[Year] may have sucked" on 2016). I'm sure we're all feeling the ongoing burn of the CanLit Dumpster Fire, the nightmare unfolding south of our border, and the quieter (but not necessarily smaller) nightmares in our own country. But there have been some incredible moments as well: Indigenous writers were overwhelmingly recognized in Canada's major literary awards (about bloody time, CanLit), Alicia Elliott's thought-provoking essay on the difference between writing with empathy and writing with love (see number one on this list) went viral in the middle of the Appropriation Prize debacle, and globally, the #MeToo movement shed essential light on the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that women, trans men, and non-binary folks have experienced since, well, forever. When I launched Room's No Comment project in November 2016 in response to UBC Accountable and the election of President Pussy-Grabber, I would have laughed if someone had told me that, within a year, the reckoning would begin and powerful men would lose their jobs. A year ago, the idea seemed impossible.
And so it is with a fair amount of trepidation that I say . . . 2017 was a landmark year here at Room. We published a critically acclaimed fortieth anniversary anthology, launched a new literary festival in Vancouver, started two podcasts, and have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of incredible, talented writers this year. I don't have words for what an incredible privilege it has been.
The following list of the ten most-read articles on our website this year is a mere snapshot of the talent our contributors have so generously shared with us and our readers. Thank you for your words and wisdom this year. Thank you for fighting. Thank you for challenging Canada to be better, thank you for demanding that CanLit be better, and thank you for showing us how to be better when we stumbled. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
10. forgetting urdu: An Interview with Zehra Naqvi by Rachel Thompson
This interview with our 2016 poetry contest winner Zehra Naqvi was our tenth most-read post in 2017. Zehra's stunning poem (selected by judge Marilyn Dumont) was featured in our June 2017 issue, and in her interview with Rachel Thompson, Zehra discusses some of her inspirations.
"What I have on the page is not a traditional ghazal nor is it a traditional sonnet. It is a hybrid. And the poem fails because English cannot be Urdu, it cannot fully substitute Urdu, and this displaced poet no longer remembers how to write in Urdu."
9. A Year for Ectoplasm by Emily Kellogg
Emily Kellogg's "A Year for Ectoplasm", the honourable mention in our 2017 creative non-fiction contest (selected by judge Carmen Aguirre), explores an abusive relationship through the lens of philosophy.
"Ad Hominem is the fallacy of levying your criticism of an argument on the person, not their argument.
“You hurt me,” I said.
“You’re a slut,” Thomas replied."
8. My Body is Somebody by Ashwini Bhasi
Ashwini Bhasi's poem about food and body image appeared in our March 2017 issue.
"My body is a gaping hole / that swallows things whole, / she never uses teeth to chew food, / but chews on me."
7. Satiate by Idrissa Simmonds
Idrissa Simmonds's poetic essay about her mother's cancer from our June 2017 issue went viral on social media after we posted it online. As Jen Sookfong Lee said on Twitter: "A beautiful meditation on the body, losses and gains, mothers and daughters. I'm watching Idrissa Simmonds career. You should too."—@JenSookfongLee (August 30, 2017)
"The story of a black woman’s body has many beginnings. In this beginning my mother reminds me of how she looks when she has a plate of good food: joyous, comfortable, at ease."
6. 50 Books Written by 50 Canadian Women of Colour by Kayi Wong
Kayi Wong's Roomie-curated reading list from the fall of 2016 continued to be shared and read throughout 2017, coming in as our sixth most-read blog post (and the first of four book lists in our top six). Here at Room, we're suckers for any opportunity to fangirl over our favourite writers, and this list includes loving nods to Carleigh Baker, Sigal Samuel, Mariko Tamaki, Nalo Hopkinson, Nancy Lee, Dionne Brand, and many, many more. As I wrote when this post made our top ten in 2016, this list is an essential guide for your book club, or your fifty-book pledge.
5. Black History Month: Our Favourite Canadian Writers by Christina Cooke and Nailah King
Christina Cooke and Nailah King compiled this short list for Black History Month in 2014, and the post has stayed popular ever since, returning this year as our fifth most-read blog post.
4. 17 Books to Read in 2017 by Amber Dawn
In January, Amber Dawn shared the books she was looking forward to in 2017, from Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster to Kai Cheng Thom's a place called No Homeland . . . how many have you read?
3. Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway
Gwen Benaway's keynote speech from Brock University's Queer Canada conference on November 2 has spent less than two months on our website, and is already our third most-read blog post of 2017. This long but essential read mixes personal narrative, academic analysis, and poetry to examine the complex relationship between Queerness and Indigenous communities.
"My elder introduced Wiindigo stories to us and then told us that white people are Wiindigos. They have Wiindigo Neendama, he said, a starving mind. They consume everything in order to make themselves “real.” Watch out for Wiindigos, he warned us, because they will steal your life from you without compassion or remorse. I see Wiindigo as a way to approach Queerness as well. A hunger, a desire, a dangerous power of settler Queers disconnected from themselves through trauma as they consume everything."
2. 14 Aboriginal Women Writers to Read This Summer by Jónína Kirton
After two years as the most-read post on our blog (now with over 26,000 page views), Jónína Kirton's reading list returns this year as our second most-read post. Many of the authors on this list have released new, critically acclaimed books since its publication, such as Carleigh Baker's City of Vancouver Book Award-winning short story collection Bad Endings or Katherena Vermette's novel The Break, which has won and been shortlisted for multiple awards, including the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. I've said this every year (because every year book lists dominate our top ten), but: don't just share these lists on social media, go buy, borrow, or gift these incredible books, and the books recommended on the three lists above.
1. On Seeing and Being Seen: The Difference Between Writing with Empathy and Writing with Love by Alicia Elliott
One of the best parts of 2017 was watching Alicia Elliott's star rise in CanLit. Elliott had been on Room's radar for a while;—she was short-listed for our fiction contest in 2016 and penned one of the best essays I've ever read in The Malahat Review in the same year—and the opportunity to read, re-edit, and re-publish her thought-provoking essay from the infamous Indigenous issue of Write Magazine was one of the greatest honours of my admittedly-short career. Over 2017, Elliott proved herself to be a prolific force for change in Canadian literature. We could probably dedicate a whole list just to her best articles of the last twelve months. "On Seeing and Being Seen" is an essential read, one that belongs on curricula for creative writing courses across the country.
Meghan Bell is the publisher of Room magazine.