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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Re-placing ethnicity : literature in English by Canada’s Ukrainians Grekul, Lisa


This study traces the development of prose, poetry, drama, and (creative) nonfiction written in English by Canadians of Ukrainian descent during the twentieth century. The thesis argues that, although Ukrainian Canadian literature has been underrepresented in Canadian and Ukrainian Canadian studies, it makes a substantial contribution to ongoing debates about the ways in which individuals (re)define their sense of self, community, history, and home in the process of writing. Chapter One provides an overview of Ukrainian Canadian history, and outlines the development of a Ukrainian Canadian literary tradition. Chapter Two examines the assimilationist rhetoric articulated by such non-Ukrainian Canadian writers as Ralph Connor, Sinclair Ross, and Margaret Laurence, as well as that of Vera Lysenko (author of Yellow Boots, 1954, the first English-language novel by a Ukrainian Canadian). Chapter Three focuses on Maara Haas's novel The Street Where I Live (1976), George Ryga's play A Letter to My Son (1981), and Andrew Suknaski's poetry (published in Wood Mountain Poems, 1976; the ghosts call you poor, 1978; and In the Name of Narid, 1981), and explores these writers' responses to the policies and practices of multiculturalism. Chapter Four identifies the shift toward transnational or transcultural discourses of individual- and group-identity formation in Janice Kulyk Keefer's and Myrna Kostash's writing, especially that which records their travels "back" to Ukraine. The central argument of the thesis is that if Ukrainian Canadians are to maintain meaningful ties to their ethnic heritage, they must constantly—if paradoxically—reinvent themselves as Ukrainians and as Canadians. In examining this paradox, the study draws parallels between Lysenko and Kulyk Keefer, both of whom rely on conventional narrative techniques in their writing and privilege nation-based models of identity that marginalize the experiences of ethnic minorities. Haas, Ryga, Suknaski, and Kostash, by contrast, experiment with multiple languages and genres: shaped, thematically and formally, by their experiences as hybrid subjects, their texts illustrate that ethnicity is less product than process; less fixed than fluid; constantly under construction and open to negotiation. The concluding chapter of the thesis, reflecting on the past and the present of Ukrainians in Canada, calls for the next generation of writers to continue re-imagining their communities by pushing the boundaries of existing language and forms.

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