Jenn Thornhill Verma Reviews Collection Featuring “richly and proudly diverse population”
Land of Many Shores
There’s the Newfoundland and Labrador we think we know. Perhaps yours is set to the tune of an Irish fiddle, silhouetted by painted row houses, as a redhead girl plays hopscotch on the sidewalk with Nan.
Such images have been marketed to the great benefit of tourism in this province. And they serve to uphold the rightful place of much-loved grandmothers. But, these same images conceal the far richer backdrop of experiences and voices of everyday Newfoundlanders and Labradorians today.
Land of Many Shores: Perspectives from A Diverse Newfoundland and Labrador covers terrain that ought to be required reading for residents and tourists alike. This anthology is the antidote to what editor Ainsley Hawthorn rightly calls the province’s “longstanding tradition of reducing our culture to a simple hybrid of English and Irish influences.”
Land of Many Shores is a myth-buster of a book that breaks down the misperception that diversity is an import good in the province. “There’s a myth that diversity comes to Newfoundland and Labrador but isn’t of Newfoundland and Labrador. That it’s an import, albeit a desirable one, like flour, tea, or fresh fruit in winter,” writes Hawthorn. In fact, the province is home to a richly and proudly diverse population.
Each of the 25 contributors to this collection presents a perspective revealing of the true tapestry of Newfoundland and Labrador. Given its nonfiction subject matter, which could be triggering for some readers, the book is prefaced with helpful outreach resources. The contributions are diverse in their style too – some are narrative, others essays. There’s even a poem. What they share is language choice, which maintains the voice of each author.
Shores leans into subject matter relevant for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians today. Take Gemma Hickey’s essay, “House,” which delves into the author’s non-binary identity and gender transitioning, poignantly captured in a brief conservation with their (now late) grandmother (giving us yet another reason to adore our Nans):
“Nan, what if I don’t want to be a boy or a girl?” [Gemma] asked.
“Just be Gemma,” she answered. “That’s all Nan wants.”
In “Black Motherhood and Womanhood: Resistance and Resilience,” Delores V Mullings writes of the common belief that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are the nicest people around: “I have never felt that niceness beyond a surface salutation or talk about the weather,” Mullings writes. The author offers many examples. Perhaps the most sobering is having watched as her “daughter’s self-confidence eroded to rubble” in an place accustomed to excluding those who are racialized from the fabric of Newfoundland society.
While the authors often comment about their experiences on the fringe of society, let’s not mistake them any longer as such when we know they collectively comprise the true fabric of NL society today. Every essay is as revealing and poignant as the next.
There’s “The pains we lie about,” where TJ Smith explores living with mental illness in rural Newfoundland. And in “My family’s battle with residential school and its everlasting effects,” Tyler Mugford reminds readers that “the same year the Rubik’s cube debuted… was the same year the last residential school in Newfoundland and Labrador… shut its doors.” (I could go on—if only you could see how my copy is now dogeared and highlighted with salient passages and quotes.)
Land of many Shores is at once a celebration of diversity as it is a siren call to recognize NL’s diversity. Just as no two waves breaking the shore are the same, Newfoundland and Labrador’s population is richly diverse. Don’t let the painted scenes and fiddling drown that richness out.