Bio & CV
Karen Connelly is the author of nine books of best-selling nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, the most recent being Burmese Lessons, a love story, a memoir about her experiences in Burma and on the Thai-Burma border. She has won the Pat Lowther Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction, and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fiction for her first novelThe Lizard Cage. Published in 2005, The Lizard Cage was compared in the New York Times Book Review to the works of Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Mandela, and hailed in the Globe and Mail as “one of the best modern Canadian novels.” Her latest book, Burmese Lessons, was nominated for a Governor General's Award and British Columbia National Award for Canadian Nonfiction in 2009.
Her other books include Grace and Poison, One Room in a Castle, This Brighter Prison, The Disorder of Love, and The Small Words in My Body. Married with a young child, she divides her time between a home in rural Greece and a home in Toronto.
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Karen Connelly was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1969, to a large working class family. One of Canada’s best-known and most successful younger writers, she is the author of nine books of best-selling nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She has read from her work and lectured in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. She has won the Pat Lowther Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction, and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fiction for her first novel The Lizard Cage. Published in 2005, The Lizard Cage was compared in the New York Times Book Review to the works of Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Mandela, and hailed in the Globe and Mail as “one of the best modern Canadian novels.” Her latest book, Burmese Lessons, was nominated for a Governor General's Award and British Columbia National Award for Canadian Nonfiction in 2009.
Karen Connelly identified as a writer when she was eleven years old,. At seventeen she won a scholarship as a Rotary Exchange Student. Living in a Thai village for a year set her on a course of writing about what she calls “life in the world”. After Thailand, she returned to Canada for several months, then left, at nineteen, for Basque Spain, where she lived for almost two years. Choosing to decline the university scholarships offered to her, she instead took the advice of older writers, particularly Timothy Findley, and continued living by her wits in Europe, writing about her experiences there as she compiled the letters and journals of her early adventures in Thailand. She also began to take photographs and think more consciously about incorporating the visual into her work.
In 1991, she moved to France and settled in Montclar, the Gypsy and North African quartier of Avignon. She sums up Spain and France as the years of one pair of shoes, two pairs of trousers, many books, and lots of wine. She studied French, Spanish, and the literatures of various European countries. These experiences are detailed in the books One Room in a Castle, This Brighter Prison, Grace and Poison, and The Border Surrounds Us. Soon after, an Aegean island in Greece claimed her restless soul. She lived there, off and on, from age twenty-three to thirty-four, and continues to keep a small house there. She still considers Greece--and Greek--to be her most familiar place of abode.
In 1993, Karen made a spectacular entrance onto the Canadian literary stage. Her book about Thailand Touch The Dragon, A Thai Journal won the country’s highest honour for non-fiction writing, the Governor General’s Award. At just twenty-four, Connelly became the youngest winner of this prestigious award. Touch The Dragon went on to become a national bestseller, remaining on bestseller lists for almost two years, then continuing to garner high praise in Britain, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, and, eventually, the United States. In 2002, Touch the Dragon was designated as A New York Times Notable Travel Book of the Year. (The book is published in the U.S. under the title Dream of a Thousand Lives.)
Interestingly, Touch the Dragon was actually Connelly’s second book. Her first was a collection of poetry entitled The Small Words in My Body, published in 1990. It won the Pat Lowther Award for Best Book of Poetry in 1991.
Though the rewards of early success were important to her, Karen also found that media attention was distracting. Tired of promoting her books--and thoughtful about the tensions between making artistic works and selling them--she left Canada for Asia once more, returning to Thailand in January, 1996. Over the next two years, she observed the dramatic changes wrought in Southeast Asia by development and tourism; she also went to Burma for the first time and met Burmese writers, artists, and dissidents who, in their various ways, were working against the dictatorship that controls their country.
Her observations about social and economic change in Thailand and her relationships with people in Burma and on the Thai-Burmese border marked the beginning of a new, more serious stage of education, an exploration into the politics of oppression, the politics of dissent, the political role of spirituality--in this case, Buddhism--and the cyclical nature of violence and trauma. The Border Surrounds Us is a poetic journey into the fraught world of the revolutionaries, dissidents, and refugees who live on the Thai-Burma border; it is also a precursor to the novel The Lizard Cage.
The Lizard Cage illuminates the tragic story of modern Burma by focusing on the lives of three people: a Burmese political prisoner, the jailer who befriends him, and the child-labourer who changes both of their lives in unexpected ways. A deeply layered work about the transforming power of language and of love, it was her first full-length book of prose in a decade. Burmese Lessons, a love story, her most recent book, is a memoir of her time in Burma and in the precarious, dangerous world inhabited by Burmese people on the Thai-Burma border; it also tells the story of her passionate relationship with a Burmese dissident leader. She is presently working on two more books, a collection of poetry called o Come Cold River as well as a novel.
Karen has served on the board member of PEN Canada and has been active in the Free Burma movement as well as the support campaign for the Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, whose life has been repeatedly threatened by the criminals she exposes in her writings. In 2012, Karen travelled to Kurdistan, Iraq for the first time, to write about both the economic success of the region and the lives of women there. A proficient to fluent speaker of several languages, she divides her time between her home in rural Greece and her home in Toronto, Canada. She is married with a young child.
Instructor and Thesis Adviser in Creative Nonfiction for masters-level students, University of Guelph, ongoing.
Keynote Speaker, with Suad Amiry, at the conference, The Challenges and Achievements of Palestinian Women, Henry Ford Community College, Detroit, Michigan, March, 2011
Ongoing, from 2000. Sessional Instructor, Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry. Humber School of Writing, Toronto.
Keynote Speaker in the International Writing Program, “Writing Past the Censors: The Craft of Burmese Writers,” Freedom to Write Literary Festival, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. April 2009.
Barker Fairley Distinguished Visitor in Canadian Cultural Studies, University of Toronto, University College. Winter/Spring term, 2009.
September, 2008: Writer-in-Residence in Creative Nonfiction, Toronto Reference Library, Toronto, Ontario. I gave four three-hour seminars, met one-on-one with over seventy writers from the community.
Instructor of Creative Writing, York University, 2008.
Faculty Member at Humber College. Instructor and Mentor in Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, and Poetry. Humber School of Writing, Toronto.
Writer-in-Residence, Green College, University of British Columbia, from September 2002 --February, 2003. Seminars, readings, workshops, and lectures on creative writing, poetics, and border-crossing. Active consultant with academics and writers in the inter-disciplinary atmosphere of Green College.
Workshop Leader for Global Source Network, Seattle, U.S.A., an organization which promotes the instruction of global justice issues and citizenship in U.S. high schools. Highly interactive workshop with teachers: The Writer as Witness. Taught during the third week of July, 2001.
Writer-in-Residence, Douglas College, New Westminster, B.C. March/2001. Responsible for public readings, workshops, lectures to the Douglas College student population.
Workshop Leader, “The Vital Writer”, highly interactive workshop, for the Kootenay Scho
ol of Writers in Nelson, B.C. Weekend workshop, March/2001.
Juror for the Governor General’s Awards, Non-Fiction Category, Ottawa, September, 2000.
Lecturer at the York University Millenium Symposium, Toronto. January, 2000.
Participant in the Cultural Journalism Program at the Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta. July, 1999.
Writer-in-Residence, Okanagan University College, Penticton Campus, B.C. October-January, 1998-99; responsible for public readings, lectures, and consulting work with creative writers in the college and Okanagan community.
Regular grant adjudicator for the Canadian Heritage Commission/Department of Multiculturalism Grant Program, Ottawa. 1995-96.
Documentary film writer, Asia Works Broadcasting, Bangkok, Thailand, 1996.
Visiting Scholar, Green College, UBC, Vancouver, B.C., 1996.
Workshop Leader, poetry and prose, for the Yukon Book Festival, April, 1994.
Regular contributor to CBC Radio (Morningside, Arts Tonight, Alberta Anthology), 1993-1997. Commentaries, letters, interviews about Greece, Burma, rural New Brunswick, Montreal.
Writer-in-Residence, University of New Brunswick, September 1992 to March, l993; responsible for three public readings, two seminars on the content and/or development of my work; consultant for interested creative writers in the Maritime community
Workshop Leader; creative writing for young adults, The Alexander Writer's Centre, l990-91, Calgary.
Workshop Leader, The Alexander Writer's Centre, 1990, 1991, Calgary. Workshops included "Using the journal as a writer's tool", "How to create dynamic characters", "An introduction to creating poetry" and "Using poetic techniques in prose".
Creative Writing Tutor for Gifted Students (GATE) Program at Queen Elizabeth School in Calgary, l990-91.
Participant in Canada Council-funded elementary, junior high and high school readings/ workshops/discussions in Calgary, spring, l990. (Also in 1992) (In conjunction with National Book Week.)
Poetry Workshop Leader, St. Thomas University, Frederiction, N.B., l991.
English-as-a-second-language teacher, The Behal Academy, Algorta, Vizcaya, Spain, l989-1990.
Languages spoken: proficient to fluent Thai, Greek, French, Spanish, Burmese.
Awards, Grants, Prizes
Shortlisted for The Governor General's Award and The British Columbia Nonfiction Award for Canadian Nonfiction, 2010, for Burmese Lessons, a love story.
**Winner, The Orange Broadband Prize for New Writers, 2007, for The Lizard Cage
**Shortlisted, The Kiriyama Prize, for The Lizard Cage, 2005.
Longlisted, The Impac Dublin Award, for The Lizard Cage, 2006
**New York Times Notable Travel Book of the Year, 2002, for Touch The Dragon (published as Dream of a Thousand Lives in the U.S.)
**Gold National Magazine Award, for “City of Nations”, an essay about Toronto in Toronto Life. 2000.
Recipient of a Grant in Professional Writers Category from Canada Council, for work on The Lizard Cage . Spring 2000.
Recipient of a Senior Writers’ Grant, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, for work on a novel set in Burma, 1998.
Recipient of a Canada Council Grant for a book of essays, 1996.
Invited artist-in-residence at the Varuna Writers' Colony, Katoomba, N.S.W. Australia, 1996
**Recipient of Canada’s highest literary honour for non-fiction writing, the Governor General's Award for Touch The Dragon , l994.
Recipient of an intermediate writer's grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, to continue work on One Room In A Castle, 1993.
Recipient of an Arts Grant B from Canada Council, l991, to fund writing of One Room In A Castle.
**Winner of the Pat Lowther Award, l991, for best book of poetry published by a Canadian woman in the preceding year, for The Small Words In My Body , Kalamalka Press, l990.
Recipient of an Intermediate Writer's Grant, l991, The Alberta Foundation for Literary Arts, to fund a new book of poetry.
**Winner of the National Kalamalka New Writers Contest, l990, book publication (The Small Words In My Body , poetry) and tour.
Recipient of a Junior Writer's Grant, l988, The Alberta Foundation for Literary Arts, to fund the writing of Touch The Dragon .
**Winner of the Air Canada Award, for the Most Promising Young Writer in Canada under 35, l986, from the Canadian Authors Association.
History of Literary Publications/Works in Progress (publishers are Canadian unless otherwise indicated)
Burmese Lessons, Random House Canada, Fall, 2009, Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, 2010
The Lizard Cage , Random House Canada, Fall, 2005
Doubleday/Nan A. Talese 2007
Harvill and Secker, Britain 2007
Buchet-Chastel, France 2007
Querido, Holland, 2006
Frassinelli, Italy, 2006
Grace and Poison ; essay and new edition of poetry, Turnstone Press, 2001
The Border Surrounds Us ; poetry, McClelland and Stewart Publishers, 2000.
The Disorder of Love ; poetry/photographs. Gutter Press, 1997.
One Room In A Castle, Letters from Spain, France, and Greece; Turnstone Press, 1995. Published in Australia (HarperCollins) and the U.K. (Black Swan) in 1997.
Touch The Dragon, A Thai Journal; creative non-fiction-travel, Turnstone Press, l992.
Published in the U.S. as A Dream of a Thousand Lives, by Seal Press.
English language publication in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia in 1994. (Silkworm Books)
Translated and published in Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan, 1995. (Perfect Wisdom Publishing)
Australia (HarperCollins) and the U.K. (Black Swan) in 1996.
Published in German translation (Bastei-Lubbe) in 1998.
This Brighter Prison , A Book of Journeys; poetry/fiction, Brick Books, l993.
The Small Words In My Body, poetry; Kalamalka Press, l990. New edition by Gutter Press, 1995. New edition by Turnstone Press, 2001.
In-progressCome Cold River, a new collection of poetry
A new novel.
A collections of essays.