Prof. Susan Birkwood recently gave a paper at the Western Humanities Alliance conference in Calgary, Alberta. Hosted at the new Calgary Centre Library, the conference explored the theme of “Spectral Cities.” Conference organizers asked presenters to consider how fictional or filmic versions of cities have shaped the perception of real ones; how these spectral cities interact with the everyday ones; and what different versions of the city appear when we look at the everyday one from a different angle or in a different light: cities of animals, cities of transience, cities of opposition.

Prof. Birkwood’s paper, Shifting the Narrative of Winnipeg’s North End in Katherena Vermette’s The Break,” argues that Vermette’s 2016 novel reflects the profound social divisions within Winnipeg. However, Prof. Birwood argues that “the novel stands testament to the unity of a close-knit Métis family, as four generations come together to support the young survivor of a violent assault. Weaving together multiple perspectives, Vermette not only creates a moving portrait of family solidarity in stark contrast to the isolation caused by intergenerational trauma; she also sketches a map of Winnipeg as her characters see and experience it. While it illustrates the legacy of settler colonialism and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, the narrative also reasserts the vital presence of Anishinaabe, Cree, and Métis communities.” Find out more about the conference here.

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