Boyden, Joseph 1966–
Boyden, Joseph 1966–
PERSONAL: Born 1966, in Ontario, Canada; son of Raymond Wilfred Boyden (a physician) and a teacher; married; wife's name, Amanda (a trapeze artist, contortionist, educator and writer). Education: York University, B.A., 1991; University of New Orleans, M.F.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—Ontario, Canada; New Orleans, LA. Office—Department of English, 127 Liberal Arts Bldg., University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA 70148. Agent—Nicole Winstanley, Westwood Creative Artists, 94 Harbord St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Northern College, James Bay, Ontario, Canada, former instructor in communications; University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, teacher of writing and literature.
AWARDS, HONORS: Canada Council for the Arts grant.
Born with a Tooth (short stories), Cormorant Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
Three-Day Road (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
She Takes You Down (fiction), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Potpourri, Cimarron Review, Blue Penny Quarterly, and Panhandler.
SIDELIGHTS: Joseph Boyden is a Canadian citizen who divides his time between his Ontario homeland and New Orleans, Louisiana. Although he has taught at the University of New Orleans for many years and has a deep attachment to the city, his fiction is more concerned with life in northern Ontario. In fact, the author has said that the distance between the setting of his stories and his base in New Orleans somehow facilitates his writing. His first book, Born with a Tooth, is a collection of short stories set in the remote lands of Ontario, where many of his characters have grown up on Indian reserves. Boyden did not have that experience personally, but his heritage does include ancestors from various Canadian tribes. "I'm Irish, Scottish and Métis (most people don't know what that means but it's Indian mixed with European blood, usually French and Indian, but in my case it's a little bit of French and more Scottish), and Mi'kmaq on my father's side. They're an east coast tribe in Canada," he told Susan Larson in the Times-Picayune. "But here's where it gets complicated. I have friends who've grown up on reserves and experienced horrible racism and all the trials and tribulations of being Indian. But my father raised us Irish-Catholic, and the Indian thing was really not discussed…. When I look at myself in the mirror I don't say I'm Indian. I don't want to come off as such a wannabe." Still, his familiarity with Native Canadian culture is evident in Born with a Tooth, according to Cheryl Petten in Wind Speaker. "Boyden is a talented writer," she asserted. "His characters are well put together—real, believable, human. By the end of the book, you feel like you know these people. You feel like you have been to these places with them, and have watched as bits of their lives have unfolded before you."
Boyden's first novel, Three-Day Road, also features characters of Native-Canadian extraction, and it addresses their part in World War I. Specifically, the story focuses on two Cree youths whose wilderness know-how is the foundation for their training as deadly efficient soldiers. The two long-time friends, who are very different in their natures, function as a sniper team, but things begin to go awry as they become addicted to narcotics, and to killing. Taking ever-greater risks in order to perfect the marksmanship in which he takes such pride, Elijah eventually slides into madness, and this leads to an act of outright murder. Xavier, meanwhile, watches his friend's disintegration helplessly, and returns from the war broken in spirit and body.
Three-Day Road allowed the author to indulge a personal passion for military history and also to pay tribute to his family experience. As Boyden explained to Larson, he came from a military family, and his father "was the most highly decorated doctor in the British Empire in World War II." About the book, Library Journal reviewer David Keymer stated, "In straightforward, concrete prose, first novelist Boyden evokes a ghastly poetry of death." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "a powerful tale of two young men numbed by the horrors and brutality of trench warfare. Boyden vividly portrays the chaos, fear, cowardice and courage of infantrymen."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2005, David Pitt, review of Three-Day Road, p. 1263.
Bookseller, April 16, 2004, p. 28.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2005, review of Three-Day Road, p. 189.
Library Journal, May 15, 2005, David Keymer, review of Three-Day Road, p. 104.
Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2005, review of Three-Day Road, p. 35.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), May 10, 2005, Susan Larson, "Author Makes His Home in Orleans; Not Your Average Joseph."
Toronto Life, May, 2005, Ken Hunt, "One for the Road: Author Joseph Boyden Is Can-Lit's Newest Hot Property," p. 116.
Wind Speaker, November 21, 2001, Cheryl Petten, review of Born with a Tooth, p. 18.
Minnesota Public Radio Web site, http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/ (May 24, 2005), Euan Kerr, interview with Joseph Boyden.