Who Would Be On Your Country’s Literary Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore was sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln, between 1927 and 1941. It features four of the most well-known American Presidents of all time — Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt, and Lincoln — and is probably the coolest thing about the United States (ranking just ahead of rock n’ roll, Mark Twain, and alley-oop dunks). The four men depicted were chosen because they represented, for Borglum, the four most important events in the history of the country (the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, the construction of the Panama Canal, and the Civil War).

While thinking about who would grace Mount Rushmore if it was constructed today, I started to think about other theoretical Mount Rushmores: the Mount Rushmore of the NHL (Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, and Howe), the Mount Rushmore of One Direction (Zayn left and I’d still kick out Louis), and, naturally, the Mount Rushmore of Canadian Literature.

If we were to carve a bunch of giant literary luminaries into, say, Mount Robson, who would those four be? For fun, I thought I’d take a stab at it.

Fun Fact: the design actually called for each president to be carved all the way to the waist, but funding ran out in 1941 so Mount Rushmore was technically never completed (this is why Washington kind of has a body but nobody else does).


Face #1: Margaret Atwood

First from the left

Margaret Atwood - Canada's Mount RushmoreObviously. She’s literally the face of Canadian Literature. She’s a no-doubter for Canada’s Literary Mount Rushmore, and deserves the all-important “Washington slot” as first from the left. Atwood is this country’s most prominent writer, and thus, deserves to be the most prominent face on Canada’s Rushmore. (Although I have no idea how they’d handle all that hair.)

A novelist, critic, essayist, poet, and crackerjack ace motherfucker, Margaret Atwood has been shortlisted for the Booker five times (winning once). She’s won the Governor General’s Award (twice), the Giller, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, has been accepted into the Order of Canada.

Best known for her novels The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and most recently her MaddAddam trilogy, Atwood may be an equally accomplished poet, having published 15 collections.

She was also the first author chosen to contribute to The Future Library Project, which will take one writer’s contribution each year for the next hundred years, to be printed in the year 2114. They could have chosen any writer in the world and they chose Atwood.

So Jonathan Franzen can suck it, basically.


Face #2: Stephen Leacock

Second from the left

Stephen Leacock - Canada's Mount RushmoreFrom 1915 to 1925, Stephen Leacock was the most widely read English-speaking humorist in the world, and he wrote some 60-odd works of fiction and non-fiction. Despite the fact that his two master works, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) and Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914) aren’t even recognizable to, well, anyone at this point, Leacock was arguably the most famous and well-read Canadian in history.

It was said in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada.

Known for his humour and political criticism, Leacock is the namesake of the Stephen Leacock Award, which is given annually to the “Best” in Canadian Literary humour. He’s been on a postage stamp, has a school and a College named after him, and there’s even a Museum dedicated to him in Orillia, where he was born.

Perhaps most importantly, he had a full, rich moustache, a necessary pre-requisite for any Rushmore, to be sure.


Face #3: Alice Munro

Second from the right

Alice Munro - Canada's Mount RushmoreTwo words: Nobel Prize.

Described as Canada’s Chekhov by author Cynthia Ozick, Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature as “the master of the contemporary short story.” She’s the first and only Canadian to do so.

She’s also won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her entire body of work, the Governor General’s Award (three times), and the Giller (twice).

Hamstrung (when it comes to public perception) by the fact that she’s never truly written a novel, and she writes primarily about one of the most boring places on earth — Huron County in Southwest Ontario — Munro has arguably been the most accomplished short story writer in the world over the past 50 years.

When Munro was awarded the Nobel, author and judge Jane Smiley said, “Her work is practically perfect. That depth is what you’d usually expect to get in a novel, but Alice Munro gives us it in 20 to 30 pages.”


Face #4: Jack Rabinovich

First from the right

Jack Rabinovitch - Canada's Mount RushmoreBut … what about Ondaatje? Richler? Laurence? MacLeod? Davies? MacLennan?

Who the hell is this Jack Rabinovitch?

Jack Rabinovitch is a speech writer turned food and real estate mogul turned philanthropist. He was MacLean’s Man of the Year in 1999, is a member of the Order of Canada, and he established Canada’s top literary prize — The Scotiabank Giller Prize — to honour his late wife, Doris Giller, in 1994.

The Giller Prize’s effect on the Canadian literary landscape is astounding in that it’s essentially created a modern literary culture at a time when readers continue to dwindle.

“The Giller Prize allowed authors to be seen in a different way,” says Iris Tupholme, Senior Vice President and Executive Publisher at HarperCollins Canada. “That glamorous red carpet treatment was seen for the first time in this country. So authors had a chance to become celebrities. This was not possible before except in a very community-based way.”

The Giller has been something of a hot air balloon, both for the writers its championed and for the Canadian publishing industry as a whole. It’s been an affirmation of the arts in this country at a time when our Prime Minister slashed $45 million dollars from the federal arts budget and boldly claimed that “ordinary people” don’t care about the arts.

The award ceremony is nationally televised to nearly 1.5 million people every year (to extrapolate that for my American friends, that’s the equivalent of about 15 million in the States, or roughly the same number of people who watch Game of Thrones every week). When the Award launched, it gave $25,000 to the winning author. Today, thanks to the Giller’s success, that number is now an incredible $100,000.

It’s even spawned a catchphrase — “the Giller effect” — which references the fact that Giller-winning titles, on average, receive a 543 percent boost in sales. When The Sentimentalists won back in 2010, sales surged 4906 percent over the previous week.

The Giller has, arguably, done more for Canadian literature than anything else in its history. And it’s all thanks to Jack.
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Who would be on your country’s literary Mount Rushmore?
Do you disagree with my choices?
Let me know in the comments, or write a post of your own and tag me in it!

7 Comments

  1. I didn’t really concern myself with including four different people from four different eras. I went with the four most important/influential, in my opinion. Three of these are contemporary, but there are a few things to consider about that: 1) Munro and Atwood have been writing for the last 50 years, and our country isn’t that old; so even though they are contemporary, their impact is spread over a much larger range than presidents. 2) We don’t have a long literary history, at least not one that’s memorable; so I think in Canada we’d be shoehorned into choosing people from the last 60 years. 3) Two of the four Mount Rushmore heads were presidents just a decade apart.

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  2. You should read Black Hills by Dan Simmons. It’s a really good book (except for the last couple of pages) and it may change how you feel about Mount Rushmore. I’d replace Munro with Laurence. I don’t care about the Nobel Prize. I concede your point about the importance of the Giller Effect but I’d replace Rabinovich with Thomas King (though, I doubt King would want the “honour”). – Kirt

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  3. Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie and the Brontes (all together and counting as one!). Or possibly Jane Austen. And then there’s Dickens. This is impossible. Agree about Atwood though – what a wonderful author and person!!

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