Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lynn Coady

It's 10 years now since Lynn Coady's debut novel burst into the Canadian literary spotlight. Its power and originality have not dimmed.

Like the Douglas Glover biography I previously posted, the below biography was written on assignment.


Lynn Coady, writer (b. 1970, Cape Breton). Adopted into a large hockey-driven family, Coady spent most of her childhood in Port Hawkesbury, an industrial town of 4,000 located on the southwestern end of Cape Breton Island. Coady nurtured early artistic aspirations and struggled with disapproval of her ambitions.

She told the online magazine Bookmunch her early life didn’t encourage artistic development: "To aspire to [the writing life] is considered preposterous and bigheaded, and you are tacitly told that people like you ‘don’t do that sort of thing.’"

In her novels and short stories, Coady has drawn on her the environment of her childhood, including themes of economic hardship, literary ambition and teenaged pregnancy. Pregnant at 18, she gave up the baby for adoption. "Being a pregnant teen … awakened in me a number of philosophical questions about what it is to be female. It also made me see a lot of hypocrisy in society," she told Quill and Quire. In an author profile for Random House she said her pregnancy "set me off on the philosophical course that I eventually went down. It blew society wide open for me."

Coady moved to Ottawa in 1988 to pursue journalism at Carleton University, before switching her studies to English and Philosophy. She soon dedicated herself to creative writing while working odd jobs, such as day-care worker and nanny. She moved to Vancouver in the mid-1990s and completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of British Columbia while working on her first novel, STRANGE HEAVEN.

The novel would trust her into the Canadian literary spotlight, receiving a nomination for the 1998 Governor General’s Award and wide praise. A review in January Magazine is representative: "Fresh and raw and utterly unselfconscious. A book so entirely without guile and so completely of the earth, it’s impossible to read it and wonder if the author isn’t beating a whole new path."

One of the more memorable characters in Canadian literature, the novel’s protagonist, Briget Murphy, is 18. She has recently given up a baby for adoption. The first half of the novel finds her in the psychiatric ward of the children’s hospital amongst disturbed peers. The second half finds her at home for Christmas amongst her disturbed family. Like all of Coady’s work, the novel treats its characters with compassion and abounds with humour.

Coady has listed Jean Rhys, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Dostoevsky and David Adams Richards among her influences. Her work is notable for its treatment of the absurd, absence of sex, depictions of alcohol consumption and what one critic called "the abject and the taboo." An excellent ear for the vocal patterns of Maritime English is another common characteristic of her work, providing it with a strong sense of place and vivid characters.

Her protagonists have tended to be youth on the cusp of adulthood, negotiating what it means to enter the adult world. Like other satirists, Coady depicts the world as unstable and rife with hypocrisies and contradictions.

The author of three novels and a short story collection, she has also written four plays, though these are not considered her major work. To date, her work has aligned with a tradition of literary realism typified by Maritime authors such as David Adams Richards, Ernest Buckler, and Alistar MacLeod.

She has edited anthologies, taught creative writing, and served as the guest editor of Adbusters Magazine. She has also written journalism for many publications and wrote a regular column for The Globe and Mail. Her awards include the Canadian Authors Association/Air Canada Award for best writer under 30, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts’ Victor Martyn Lynch-Straunton Award for artists in mid-career, among others.


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