South Asian Writers in Canada

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For over 110 years, people of South Asian origin, also referred to as Indo-Canadians or East Indians, have called Canada their home.  They leave behind their homes, families, and lives for a new beginning in Canada.  Majority of the South Asian migrants originate from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan and they belong to diverse religious backgrounds including Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian.  In addition, these communities speak various languages, with the most common languages being Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Gujarati, and Bengali. 

There was a time when during the Komagata Maru and Ghadar incidents, South Asians were neither welcomed nor allowed to enter in Canada.  But then time changed, and now over the years they have worked very hard to establish themselves and have played vital roles in the growth and development of Canada. They are now important members of Canada's cultural fabric, and a number of people from South Asian community are serving  in senior positions at various institutions, organizations, municipal, provincial and federal governments including city mayors, municipal councilors, Members of Legislative Assemblies, Members of Parliament, premier, federal and provincial ministers, supreme court judges, chief executive officers, presidents and vice-chancellors in universities and colleges, deans, professors, school principals, teachers, chief librarians, senior doctors and medical specialists, military and police personnel, and successful business persons.

 In addition to these accomplishments, a number of South Asians have made significant contributions in the development of literature, and have published a large number of popular books including novels, poetry, non-fictions, text-books, and research publications. Their works in English and other languages have attracted worldwide attention and acclaim, and some have been honored with national and international awards including prestigious Giller Award. Majority of their publications focus primarily on the South Asian culture, festivals, history, and traditions and serve as useful resources for teachers, researchers, students and others.  It is heartening to note that many doctoral dissertations and research studies have been conducted on the works and contributions of South Asian writers in Canada. 

Dozens of South Asian literary associations have been formed in the country to promote their literature and to interact with each other.  Many literary conferences, seminars, workshops, book releases events, award ceremonies, and regular meetings are held at various institutions/ agencies in different provinces. Also several awards/ honors have been instituted to encourage and recognize South Asian writers at provincial and national levels.

Challenges: Most of the South Asian English books are published in Canada and USA, and the writers get royalties for the books sold, and do not have to spend much on publishing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for South Asian books in non-English languages, such as Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi. Due to a smaller market, language authors face many challenges, including a dearth of publishers willing to take on their projects, high costs of printing and binding in North America, and limited sales. Thus, most of the local authors seek to publish their works outside Canada, often in their home countries, such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Many of these writers spend a good amount of their hard earned money in the publication of their manuscripts elsewhere, and have to pay hefty shipping charges to bring these books back to Canada.  Since these language books are published outside Canada, these do not fall under the purview of Legal Deposit process of the Library & Archives Canada. Such publications of Canadian authors are not available in the National Library for the use and preservation.  These publications by local authors may be needed for reference and research, and therefore, it is suggested that all such material be preserved and made available in the National Library as well as in university libraries for future generations. This will provide these writers more long-term exposure and recognition for their hard work in Canada and other countries.

Hopefully we will be able to find a solution for South Asian writers who seek to publish and distribute their works in languages other than English, such as through the formation of a Writer's cooperative or through other agency. Perhaps a government grant or subsidy would be welcome relief for such writers and would encourage them to publish languages books within Canada.

While working in public and academic libraries in Canada, India and USA for over 35 years, I always felt the need to have a comprehensive and up-to-date resource guide about the publications of South Asian Canadian writers. As there was no such biographical and bibliographical work available, and upon the suggestions of many professional colleagues, I took up this project to compile an exhaustive bio-bibliographical directory about writers that will be helpful for teachers, writers, students, scholars and librarians  around the globe and may be used for many Libraries for books selection and collection development. This directory has long been in the making, and took more than four years to complete.