The Burgess Shale

“The outburst of cultural energy that took place in the 1960s was in part a product of the two decades that came before. It’s always difficult for young people to see their own time in perspective: when you’re in your teens, a decade earlier feels like ancient history and the present moment seems normal: what exists now is surely what has always existed.”

Margaret Atwood compares the Canadian literary landscape of the 1960s to the Burgess Shale, a geological formation that contains the fossils of many strange prehistoric life forms. The Burgess Shale is not entirely about writing itself, however: Atwood also provides some insight into the meagre writing infrastructure of that time, taking a lighthearted look at the early days of the institutions we take for granted today—from writers’ organizations, prizes, and grant programs to book tours and festivals.