Will Ferguson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Will Ferguson

William Stener Ferguson, travel writer and novelist (born 12 October 1964 in Fort Vermilion, AB).

Will Ferguson was educated in western Canada and graduated with a BFA from York University. Ferguson's writing encompasses the whole of human experience. His narratives describe historic, human and geographic landscapes, expressing the shifting nature of humanity in genres as diverse as the novel, the essay, travelogue and memoir, and in his reflections on Canadian identity.

Will Ferguson's publications include a number of books addressing Canadian history and identity, in tones blending the informative and the satiric. These begin with Why I Hate Canadians (1997), published on Ferguson's return to Canada, culturally disoriented after teaching English in Japan for five years. With irreverence and irony, Ferguson focuses on ideas and ideals that often make Canada the envy of the world, but somehow fail to be noticed by Canadians themselves. Other works, also, with characteristic deprecation, centre on Canadian history and identity, such as I Was a Teen-Age Katima Victim: A Canadian Odyssey (1998) and Bastards and Boneheads: Canada's Glorious Leaders, Past and Present (1999). Canadian History for Dummies (2000) is Will Ferguson's strident, myth-busting account of the very beginnings of Canada: "to say...that 'we are all immigrants to Canada, even the Indians,' is a gross distortion to say the least." Ferguson's abiding love for Canada, its diverse cultures and its "big history" is clear. Further works include Beauty Tips from Moosejaw (2004), which earned Ferguson his second Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. Here, he portrays Canada as a series of outposts: "Outposts are not only geographic; they can be linguistic, political, cultural...small triumphs of survival." Canadian Pie (2011) is a hilarious collection of essays, brazenly questioning Canada's most enduring icons such as "Almighty Anne of Green Gables" and "Big Objects Across Canadian Highways."

Ferguson's travel publications engage with their sense of discovery. 1998's Hitching Rides with Buddha (Hokkaido Highway Blues) is Ferguson's account of the Japanese spring cherry blossom trail. Written with humour and poetic language, Ferguson captures the fleeting, fragile nature of such beauty: "as quickly as they arrive ...They fall like confetti....and in their passing they leave the dark green shimmering heat of summer." A second travelogue, The Hitchhiker's Guide to Japan (1998), explores the country's subtly shifting cultural identities from south to north. Ferguson's Beyond Belfast: A 560-Mile Journey Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet, explores the dichotomy between Ireland's breathtaking beauty and its tragic "troubles." It won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

The fiction of Will Ferguson achieves a bold balance between the comedic, the tragic and the poetic. His first novel, Happiness (2001), winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, is a sardonic look at the world of publishing: Ferguson captures the quirks and qualities of those who toil for authors, "dozens of these publishers, swilling their swamp of words, churning the muck...of that most egotistical of creatures: the writer...mainly by accident a masterpiece slips through." A dramatically different narrative, Spanish Fly (2008) is a novel of lost souls in the Depression sands of West Texas. Con men and call girls teach 19-year-old Jack all their strategies as he works to survive a desperate era. Ferguson's descriptions of the relentless winds and dust, the "dry storms and stifling heat" of the "black blizzards," drive the story and parch the souls of his characters: "The drought years are upon us now.... Our idea of an outing ... is three gasps of fresh air between one storm and the next." Ferguson's 2012 novel, 419, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. International in scope, it explores unfathomed despair and how it corrupts the human soul. Ferguson's intricate plot is like a transcontinental contagion that, through computers, infects the lives of innocents made gullible and guilty by association with their nation's GDP: "I am contacting you today regarding an urgent business proposal...the decision you make will go a long ways toward determining the future...of a young woman."

The precision of Ferguson's language, whether poetic or humorous, reveals both the landscapes he has trekked and the characters he has imagined as being treacherous and tragic, vulnerable and venal, yet mysteriously redeemable, with a potential for grace.

Will Ferguson lives in Calgary and continues to travel extensively.

Selected Works of
Will Ferguson

Further Reading