Karen Connelly

Presented March 22, 2016 by Judi Lee

Karen Connelly was born and raised in Calgary and identified as a writer when she was eleven years old. Her writing includes a number of genres including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  When she was fifteen (1984), she left home to escape what she calls the “various disasters and addictions of my family.” It was during this time that she began to write what would become the first half of her book of poetry entitled “The Small Words in My Body.“  Published when Karen was twenty-one, this book won the National Kalamalka New Writers contest in 1990, and the Pat Lowther Award in 1991 for best poetry book of the year by a Canadian woman.

Her numerous awards include Canada’s highest literary honour for non-fiction writing, the Governor General’s Award, for Touch the Dragon, A Thai Journal. Her journal, written during her first visit to Thailand, has been described as “illuminating, poignant and funny, the writing exquisite”, “filled with a string of powerful, enriching moments, vignettes beautifully and clearly illustrated in Connelly’s poetic language, which seem as fresh in the reader’s mind as they must in her memory. The reader can taste, smell and visualize everything.”

In the spring of 2000, Karen was the recipient of a Senior Writers’ Grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, to work on her first novel. Set in the country of Burma, The Lizard Cage was published in 2005, and in 2006 was shortlisted for the U.S. Kiriyama Prize, Long listed for the Impact Dublin Award and received Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize in 2007 for New Fiction.

Burmese Lessons: A Love Story, published in 2009, was nominated in 2010 for the Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction.  The book candidly recounts the time Connelly spent in Burma in 1996, when she was there gathering information for a series of articles she was writing about political prisoners.

Connelly has also published several books of poetry, most recently a collection entitled Come Cold River.  She describes the book as being “a true ‘Calgary’ book—full of poems about my childhood and the land itself. But also critical and unsparing when it comes to the poverty of our great boomtown, and all the hidden aspects of development that have been so hard for the city’s poor.”

While Connelly doesn’t consider herself a political activist, she prefers to identify as a writer who writes about political themes and injustice. Some of the causes she cares deeply about are violence against women, missing aboriginal women, women in the sex trade, military brutality and political prisoners in Burma, and most recently, the plight of Syrian refugees.  Although her writing is at times very raw, honest and vulnerable, the reader is often left with feelings of hope for a better world.   A wealth of information, including awards, extensive interviews, reviews and personal writings can be found on her blog at www.karenconnelly.ca.