Kim Echlin, writer (born 1955 in Burlington, ON). Kim Echlin earned a doctorate in Ojibway storytelling from York University, after attending McGill University and the Sorbonne, Paris. Echlin has worked as a documentarian for CBC and served as fiction editor for the Ottawa Citizen. The random nature of human connection and interaction is an ongoing point of exploration for Echlin, as is the significance of language and how we understand its role in our lives and relationships.
Echlin's novel Elephant Winter (1997), shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, fuses poetic language and evocatively detailed settings to portray beings looking for grace in loss. It presents Sophie, who returns from Africa to look after her dying mother. Living close to an elephant safari park, she sees the elephants walking with their keeper, Joe Mann. Love ensues, both for the gentle elephant-keeper and his charges. Joe teaches Sophie how to listen to the elephants and others: "How do you know if you make me uneasy... I suppose I watch for little signs." With her mother, Sophie develops an Elephant-English dictionary and both learn to watch for and accept the signs of their grief as they reach the end of their life together.
A second novel, Dagmar's Daughter (2001), explores the power of myth and the unique strengths of femininity. Set upon a remote island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the novel follows the titular Nyssa, who has a mysterious ability to connect with the natural world. Her innate ability to hear and then play music unleashes powers she does not recognize: "Nyssa leapt with a wild whoop from the tree to the very edge of the fire, dancing and playing as she fell through the air. Her fiddling could seduce a seed from the ground." Like her musician father, Nyssa's wanderlust forbids her from settling anywhere until she meets Moll, who introduces her to new and dark powers of the earth, music and womanhood. Dagmar's jealousy rages and she creates a storm that threatens to destroy all. Drawing upon the ancient myths of Persephone and Inanna, Echlin creates a story whose strong characters and haunting settings remind us of how myth endures. Echlin has also published a collection of myths about Inanna in free verse, Inanna: From the Myths of Ancient Sumer (2003).
The Disappeared (2009), shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of a 2010 Barnes & Noble Discover Award, is set in the killing fields of Pol Pot's Cambodia. Serey, a Cambodian exile forbidden to return to his family and home, falls in love with Anne Greaves in Montreal. When political boundaries shift and he is able to re-enter his homeland he leaves for Cambodia, vanishing for 30 years until Anne decides to face her past and travel to the east in search of him. Echlin writes with powerful emotion in exploring changing social mores and the role of memory and desire in our lives and loves: "Do you remember in those days, the shock of an Asian guy with a white girl, or a black with a white or a French with an English... all of us pretending nothing was forbidden." Echlin's work suggests that even the memory of love can be sustaining.
Kim Echlin has taught journalism and creative writing at universities across Canada and has served as a mentor and editor at the Banff Centre's School for Writers. She continues to write and live outside of Toronto.