Katherine Govier | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Katherine Govier

Katherine Mary Govier, CM, writer, editor, administrator, teacher (born 4 July 1948 in Edmonton, AB). Katherine Govier has published 10 novels and three short-story collections, as well as two acclaimed collections of travel writing. A Member of the Order of Canada, she has received the Toronto Book Award and the Marian Engel Award. She has served on the boards of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canadian Council for Civil Liberties and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. She has also taught at Sheridan College, Ryerson University and York University.


Katherine Govier à l'Eden Mills Writers 'Festival, 18 septembre 2016.

Early Years and Education

Born and raised in Edmonton, Katherine Govier graduated with her BA Honours in English from the University of Alberta in 1970. She then earned her MA in English from York University in 1972. Govier lived in many cities throughout the world before settling with her husband and two children in Toronto. She has noted, however, how the pragmatism and energy of her Alberta roots helped shape her.

Career Highlights

From her first novels, Random Descent (1979) and Going Through the Motions (1982), through her career to date, Govier has returned to three central concerns in her fiction: character, place and history. She says that her work is “rooted in a strongly recognizable place — whether it is Toronto's Brunswick Avenue, or… Calgary in the oil boom of the 1980s.” Govier insists, however, that her writing “isn’t travel writing. My interest is entirely in character. The question is how the character is created and what events flow from a human personality.”

Her fiction is admired for her keen attention to place and characterization, and their interactions. Hearts of Flame (1991) was awarded the 1992 Toronto Book Award for its evocative portrayal of Toronto. Between Men (1987) is one of very few novels to put Calgary on the Canadian literary map. Other novels, such as Angel Walk (1996), The Truth Teller (2000), Creation (2002) and Three Views of Crystal Water (2005), examine the borderlines and connections between different geographical spaces, historical periods, and unique personalities. Govier challenges her readers to think beyond the borders of their own historical and geographical experiences; to consider the ways in which time and space create and shape identity.

Govier’s 10 novels and three short-story collections — The Immaculate Conception Photography Gallery (1994), Before and After (1989) and Fables of Brunswick Avenue (1985) — have been published in several languages. They have been highly praised throughout Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The New York Times named Creation a Notable Book for 2003. In 1997, Govier received the Marian Engel Award in recognition of her work and talent as a mid-career female Canadian writer. (See also Marian Engel.)

Govier's interest in how people move into foreign spaces and are changed by travel is also evident in her work as an editor. She has edited two acclaimed collections of travel essays: Solo: Writers on Pilgrimage (2003) and Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel (1994). Both collections consist of a diverse selection of essays, drawn from a wide range of international writers.

Other Activities

Katherine Govier has served as chair of the Writers’ Trust of Canada (1989–92) and as president of PEN Canada (1997–98). She has served on the boards of the Toronto Arts Council, the Canadian Council for Civil Liberties and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. She was a writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library System (1994–1995) and at the Toronto Reference Library (1998), as well as a research fellow at Leeds University in Leeds, England (1987).

Govier is also in charge of The Shoe Project, a Canada-wide writing workshop “for refugee and immigrant writers in which they write about the shoes that symbolize their journey to Canada.” Govier has taught journalism at Sheridan College and Ryerson University, as well as creative writing at York University. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2019 for “contributing to Canada’s literary scene as an acclaimed author, and for supporting refugee and immigrant women.”

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