RARA-AVIS: Passports, please...

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 30 Aug 2001

Mark wrote:

>I am curious about the statement that
>Chandler was an English writer. Sure, he spent some formative years
>over there, and it had to effect his vision of America and his writing
>about it, but "English writer"? I think that's a stretch. Is that
>really how he is thought of on the other side of the pond?

Hmmmm... I have no idea, though I guess a case could be made. After all, sometimes in a burst of flagwaving silliness, I think of Margaret Millar and Ross Macdonald as Canadian writers.

It is an interesting idea, though. As you mention, you can't deny that where someone grows up can have a tremendous effect on the rest of their lives, writers or non-writers. And it's a case that even Chandler occasionally made, particularly at the start of his career
-- he thought of himself often as British (even heading up to Vancouver to enlist in the Canadian army, which at the time was the next best thing to joining the British Army), just as Ross Macdonald frequently mentioned "the pull" of Canada.

So, break out the hyphens and call 'em British-American or Canadian-American or whatever if you really have to label these guys by nationality. Sure, it's clumsy, but it's probably more accurate, and even fair. It's not always an either/or thing.

After all, you don't check in your identity when you cross a border. Does John Irving, for example, stop being an American writer, because he now lives in Toronto? Was Hemingway actually a Spanish writer? Was Charlie Chaplin an American? What does make a writer American? Or Canadian or Norweigian or whatever? Where they were born? Where they grew up? Where their stories are set? Where they live now? Where the heart is?

All those things shape a writer, of course, but in the end a writer is just a writer. The writing that really counts is in their books and stories, not on their passports.

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