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Hay, Elizabeth 1951-

HAY, Elizabeth 1951-


Born 1951, in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada; married; husband's name, Mark (second marriage); children: Sochi, Ben. Education: Attended Victoria College and University of Toronto.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Counterpoint, 387 Park Ave. South, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10016-8810.


Author. CBC Radio, Canada, host, interviewer, and documentary filmmaker; taught creative writing at New York University and the University of Ottawa.


National Magazine gold award for fiction, 1995; Western magazine award for fiction, 1995; MOSAID Technology award, Canadian Authors Association, and TORGI award, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, both for A Student of Weather; Marian Engel award, 2002.


Crossing the Snow Line (stories), Black Moss Press (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

The Only Snow in Havana (nonfiction), Cormorant Books (Dunvegan, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

Captivity Tales: Canadians in New York (nonfiction), New Star Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.

Small Change (stories), Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1997, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2001.

A Student of Weather (novel), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2001.

Garbo Laughs (novel), Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2003.

Work represented in anthologies, including Best Canadian Short Stories, The Journey Prize Anthology, and The Oxford Book of Stories by Canadian Women.


Canadian author Elizabeth Hay wrote several books before her collection of short stories titled Short Change received rave reviews and a number of award nominations. Following the success of her first novel, A Student of Weather, Short Change was reprinted by Hay's U.S. publisher, Counterpoint.

The stories of Short Change are about relationships, including in "The Friend," one between the narrator, Beth, and Maureen, the beautiful wife of a promiscuous bisexual artist. "Hand Games" finds Beth's daughter, Annie, longing for friendship with the girl upstairs. In "Sayonara" Beth bumps into her old boss, a man who had been unable to communicate his affection for her, and so she married someone else. When the past catches up with her, she finds feelings for him may still exist.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "with its masterfully crafted tonalities, this analysis of friendship has a dark urgency that's as instructive as it is unsettling."

The title character in A Student of Weather is Maurice Dove, a graduate student sent from Ottawa to the prairie of southwest Saskatchewan to study weather patterns during the Depression-era dust bowl. Maurice visits the farm of widower Ernest Hardy in 1938, when the farmer's daughters—the beautiful, blonde Lucinda and brazen, gangly Norma Joyce—are respectively seventeen and eight years old. The resourceful and patient Lucinda is a dedicated housekeeper, while her unpleasant younger sister avoids work and refuses to attend school. Both sisters fall in love with Maurice, who is handsome and exudes more sophistication than the girls are used to. Lucinda experiences love in her own reserved way, while Norma Joyce makes her feelings perfectly clear. After he leaves the farm, Maurice writes to Lucinda, but Norma Joyce intercepts and destroys the letters. Over time, Norma Joyce ultimately betrays her sister, and in so doing, she removes any chance of Maurice caring for Lucinda.

Robert A. Papinchak wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "the facile narrative moves from western to eastern Canada and into New York City. It illuminates distinctions between prairie life and city life. It ranges from biblical and mythological themes to painful revelations about parents and children. It lays bare the consequences of lifelong secrets and lies."

Liza Featherstone noted in the New York Times Book Review that Hay "deftly renders her characters' disconcerting moral ambiguities. Norma Joyce's selfishness is profoundly disturbing—yet strangely forgivable." Featherstone felt that "despite such horrifying behavior, you can't help liking Norma Joyce more than her irritatingly lovely and long-suffering sister (until in a welcome twist, Lucinda turns out not to be as virtuous as she seems)." Booklist's Donna Seaman called A Student of Weather "painterly in its lyricism, profoundly female in its voluptuousness, and acute in its psychology." National Post contributor Jason Sherman commented that Norma Joyce "is not larger than life, she is life, and she comes to us fully formed in this rich, compelling, satisfying novel."

Hay's second novel, Garbo Laughs, is set in Ottawa, the home of writer Harriet Browning, who has been told that she resembles actress Greta Garbo. Much of the story takes place during the ice storm of 1998. Harriet is the wife of architect Lew Gold and the mother of two. Denied access to movies as a child, she is now obsessed with old films and hardly has time for her husband. She has indoctrinated her children into her world of fantasy, and Kenny, age ten, enjoys dressing up as the Frank Sinatra character in Guys and Dolls, while Jane is her glamorous twelve-year-old. Joining their film club is Harriet's neighbor, earthy journalist Dinah Bloom. The title of the book is a reference to the fact that Garbo almost never laughed, making it necessary to dub her laugh in films.

Into Harriet's life comes Aunt Leah, who is returning to Ottawa and needs a place to stay. Leah was once married to Lionel Frame, a friend of the Hollywood Ten and a blacklisted screenwriter. As the story continues, Lew and Dinah become attracted to each other, and Harriet resists her feelings for Leah's stepson. Illnesses are diagnosed and life goes on, except when it stops for another video of an old classic.

"It isn't a hankering for all movies but a love of old movies, with their long-dead stars, figures whose lives were at least partly shrouded in mystery, that gives Harriet's life meaning," wrote Karen Karbo in the New York Times Book Review. "Although she's only forty-seven, her taste in actors runs to Cary Grant and Sean Connery. Not for her Russell Crowe and Hugh Grant, with their messy dalliances and sputtering talk show appearances. Harriet doesn't just live in the movies, she lives in the past."

A Publishers Weekly critic called Garbo Laughs "a gracefully written novel, mapping out the patterns of tension and release in a family whose members are best able to express their love and disappointment through the films of the past."



Booklist, November 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of A Student of Weather, p. 614; October 1, 2001, Danise Hoover, review of Small Change, p. 299; September 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 56.

Books in Canada, September-October, 2001, review of A Student of Weather, p. 14.

Chatelaine, June, 2003, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 213.

Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 2003, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 84.

Houston Chronicle, April 22, 2001, Steve Wisch, review of A Student of Weather, p. 15.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Small Change, p. 1150; August 1, 2003, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 978.

Library Journal, March 1, 2001, Cheryl L. Conway, review of A Student of Weather, p. 131; August, 2001, Lisa Nussbaum, review of Small Change, p. 168; September 1, 2003, Caroline M. Hallsworth, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 206.

Mclean's, August 21, 2000, Charles Gordon, review of A Student of Weather, p. 55.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 11, 2001, Robert A. Papinchak, review of A Student of Weather, p. 6.

National Post, May 6, 2000, Jason Sherman, review of A Student of Weather, p. 26.

New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2001, Liza Featherstone, review of A Student of Weather, p. 23; November 16, 2003, Karen Karbo, review of Garbo Laughs, p. L6.

Publishers Weekly, December 11, 2000, review of A Student of Weather, p. 63; July 28, 2003, review of Garbo Laughs, p. 75.

Quill and Quire, May, 2000, review of A Student of Weather, p. 30.

Times Literary Supplement, December 28, 2001, Lavinia Greenlaw, review of A Student of Weather, p. 20.

Victoria, July, 2001, Michele Slung, review of A Student of Weather, p. 35.

Washington Post Book World, February 20, 2001, Jabari Asim, review of A Student of Weather, p. C03.


January Magazine, (June, 2000), Linda Richards, interview with Hay.*

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