Literarily Speaking

A different take on February novels

Avery Nowicki They/them // Communities Editor


Dear friends and fellow studious confidants, as we move into February, I feel I’ve been more integrated into on-campus life than ever. From slowly growing out of that early semester shine and struggling through the cold rainy months, to working through my courier assignments for all of you, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what makes a campus community thrive, and what breaks it. 

This month, in my decision for this column’s book to discuss, I found myself falling through piles of classic romance novels in preparation for February (I did re-skim Emma, Pride & Prejudice, and Persuasion by Jane Austen out of my pure devotion to this column). Though, while I could compile and discuss my must-reads for lovebirds, analyze the true romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, or present my favorite contemporary love literature (I stand by what I said before, there has never been, nor will ever be a Colleen Hoover analysis in this column, that is just too embarrassing) I felt that my intentions with this month’s theme were falling shallow. Sure, while we may see February as a month for Valentine’s Day, running to school with boots lined with brown slush, and a time to fall out of our studies, February holds a much higher significance to which literature can show great value.

This month, we will be discussing the 2020 novel They said this would be fun: race, campus life, and growing up by author and journalist Eternity Martis. Martis received a bachelor’s degree from Western University in 2014. Her experiences of racism and sexism within the Canadian University campus, and through interactions with the student body led to her 2020 non-fiction novel. The novel re-told the stark differences between Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario culture and receptiveness to race and sexuality. 

In a 2020 interview, Eternity told CBC, “I’ve been working on the idea for about 10 years. When I got to Western, I noticed such a difference in coming from Toronto to London, from the ways that I was being perceived and the way that people were treating me.” Eternity documented those experiences first in a blog format (as to be expected in 2011, when she began her studies at the University), before migrating the project into a play. 

In a recount of her experiences encountering racism on campus, Eternity told CBC, “in my second year, I went to a Halloween party and three white students were dressed in blackface and dressed as cotton pickers and approached us. It was the stuff that you never really think is going to happen to you or that still exists. I was very shocked.” Eternity then moved to describe how community began to build between other people of color, to where she’d heard of more examples of racism on campus. 

When discussing the true differences between her experiences in Toronto to Hamilton, she described that Toronto felt by no means exempt from anti-black racism, but she had only been a child when she left for London, Ontario. Eternity described it as a “hotbed for white supremacy. It’s very homogenous and very white Christian and conservative.” During her writing process, Eternity described worry of becoming a ‘sellout’, saying “I did write this for myself, in the sense that I stayed true to myself. But then I didn’t want to write a book necessarily for white people and for allies. I wanted to write a book that I needed when I was a student. I wanted to write the book that everyone else around me needed.” 

I will leave you with a quote from the novel, which can be found at North Vancouver Public Library, VPL & Burnaby Public Library. 

When I had told people back home that I was going to Western in the fall, they had similar comments: It’s the best school. It’s a party school. It’s a white school—why would you go there? Their eyes widened and they’d lean in, whispering as if they were afraid of someone hearing, and say that London was notoriously white, Christian, and conservative. They told me cautionary tales of family and friends transferring out of the school after years of microaggressions and racial harassment on and off campus. “Don’t worry though,” they’d say with a smile. “You’ll have fun.””

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