Previously loved

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

 No Margins: writing canadian fiction in lesbian
A sampler of Canadian lesbian lit
There will always be a risk that a text written by a lesbian might not be a lesbian text. . . [The text written by a lesbian] becomes a lesbian text only if it alters the readers sense of imagination. âe"Nicole Brossard, in No Margins

THERE IS MUCH that is misleading about the promotional copy for No Margins. No Margins is a stellar short fiction collection, says the back-cover copy, No Margins is a stellar celebration of the current state of lesbian fiction, says the publishers bumph. With her blurb, author Jane Rule tells it more like it is: Here are fifteen grand appetizers for the feast of good books these writers have already served us and they promise more to come.

Karen X. Tulchinsky

No Margins is for the most part a collection of previously published short fiction or novel excerpts by well-known out lesbian authors. In its pages the reader will find Dionne Brand (In Another Place, Not Here, 1997), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall On Your Knees, 1996) and Nicole Brossard (Baroque at Dawn, 1997; all three excerpts claimed as such in the Contents page), as well as Anne Fleming (is her story The Pear from a published collection?) and Karen X. Tulchinsky (is her story Ruined by Love an excerpt from her novel Love Ruins Everything? The table of contents does not specify.)

Nicole Brossard

By reading the Author Notes, I learn that the contributions made by Emma Donoghue, Marnie Woodrow, Elizabeth Ruth and Larissa Lai are from works-in-progress. By perusal of the Selected Annotated Biography, I surmise that other contributors works have appeared in previously published books. Never-before-published short fiction contributions in their entirety are few, if any. Warts Ugly, a deeply considered, beautifully written story by Jane Eaton Hamilton, stands out among the best. This story won a prize in the 2004 Carve Magazine contest, and was anthologized in The Best of Carve Magazine Five in 2005 âe" this I uncover by writing directly to Hamilton.

The editors of No Margins tell us that the impetus for this collection of lesbian fiction was a conversation with an unnamed bookstore owner who believes that Canadian fiction is currently being defined by lesbian writers. What might this mean?

Dionne Brand

There is this truth to celebrate: Canadian lesbian fiction of the 1980s and the 1990s has been a bridge, arching its readers toward an opened space in our imagination. What is now possible for lesbians to think, to want and to do, has been deeply influenced by lesbian writers of lesbian texts.

But can we jump to the conclusion that Canadian fiction per se has been so influenced? Have works by lesbian writers altered âe" have they and will new excellent lesbian texts alter âe" the Canadian imagination, as Nicole Brossard proposes? Are new | young writers of contemporary Canadian fiction, and its critics, reading lesbian texts and going on to celebrate or court, in words of their own, that which has been altered in their own imagination?

Larissa Lai

How might we begin to know whether this is true? How might we begin to recognize the transformative in lesbian texts?

In many of the stories and excerpts, women and girls are leaving home, or are thinking of leaving home, are attempting to cross borders between place and longing. They are following lovers across borders both physical and psychological. They are following their dreams and their desires. And unlike so many of the lesbian texts of the mid-twentieth century, when, as Daphne Marlatt writes, women complicit with the social mores of their time allow[ed] themselves to be trapped, these lesbian characters move seemingly free and unharmed into their new or imagined spaces. There is in the Tulchinsky excerpt a butch character who is stopped at Canadian customs for interrogation, but the officials give up the questioning in favour of taking their coffee break. There is Maddy, the girl-boy, or boy-girl, in Marion Douglass work, however, who does not think realistic the idea of her ever leaving her small Ontario town.

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Our lives were the way we had made them, the lesbian protagonist proudly says about herself and her lover, in Luanne Armstrongs speculative fiction, Athyraa. Verl is sure of what she make in her own mind and what she make didnt always exist, muses the protagonist of Brands In Another Place, Not Here. It sweet, sweet. A woman can be a bridge, limber and living, breathless, because she dont know where the bridge might lead, she dont need no assurance except that it would lead out with certainty, no assurance except the arch and disappearance.

As a publisher I must ask why it was thought necessary to bring out a sampler of stories and excerpts, excellent though each may be âe" and these are excellent works âe" in some cases written ten years ago. The distinct works give pleasure, but the excerpts cannot provide the reader with the deep satisfaction entire novels have given, or will give. Soon I shall know where your tears, your savage words and anxious gestures hide, says Cybil Noland in Brossards Baroque at Dawn, . . .Thus does imagination take us beyond the visible. This collection promises soon: If one follows up on the promise, if one goes in search of the previously published books.

Ann-Marie MacDonald

In the stories that make up No Margins, wonderful women and girl characters struggle to name their lived complexities. Yes, womens lives have begun to belong wholly to some of us, yes, we can celebrate this fact. But it would be wrong to suggest that we have come into a place of no margins, that we need no longer call the purported objectivity of the centre, the establishment and its institutions, into question; the particularities of our culture and our history are not yet transcended. As another great lesbian writer wrote thirty years ago, The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper. (Adrienne Rich, Women and Honour: Some Notes on Lying)âe"Beth Follett

related items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.