Steven Galloway | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Steven Galloway

Steven Galloway is widely known for his international bestseller The Cellist of Sarajevo and for the controversy surrounding his dismissal as head of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia.

Steven Galloway, novelist (born 13 July 1975 in Vancouver, BC). Steven Galloway is widely known for his international bestseller The Cellist of Sarajevo and for the controversy surrounding his dismissal as head of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia.

Education and Early Career

Steven Galloway grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia and studied creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where he subsequently taught creative writing for years. He has also taught at Simon Fraser University. He is married with two daughters and lives in New Westminster, BC.

Steven Galloway's first novel, Finnie Walsh (2000), is about the love of hockey and the way two boys form a bond that carries them through life’s tragedies and trials. The style of Galloway’s early literary influences, Farley Mowat and John Irving, is apparent in this powerful, captivating novel. Finnie Walsh was nominated for the in Canada First Novel Award.

Ascension (2003), Galloway's second novel, enters a completely different world from his first, following the life of a man who, at age 66, decides to walk across a wire strung between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Ascension looks at the life leading up to this decision, exploring suffering, rejection and the search to find a place free from suspicion and calamity. The novel was nominated for the BC Book Prizes’ Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and has been translated into numerous languages.

The Cellist of Sarajevo and The Confabulist

The Cellist of Sarajevo (2008) is Galloway’s third novel. Set during the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s, it explores the dilemmas of ordinary people caught in the crisis. The title references the true story of Vedran Smailović, a cellist who played for 22 days in sight of the snipers to honour the people dying around him. The novel examines the gentleness found in humanity and the lasting and healing power of art. It has become an international bestseller, with rights sold in 30 countries. The novel was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and won the 2009 Evergreen Award.

The Cellist of Sarajevo sparked some controversy after Smailović demanded recognition of his presence in the novel, and several critics accused the Canadian-born Galloway of appropriation of voice. Galloway has asserted his embrace of the power of the imagination to place oneself in another’s experience, to explore a variety of subject matter, themes and cultural backgrounds.

Shortlisted for the Rogers Trust Fiction Prize, The Confabulist (2014) is about an elderly man named Martin Strauss who believes that he killed Harry Houdini. The novel’s point of view alternates between Strauss and Houdini up to their encounter in Montréal in 1926. While the story is partially based on real events, as it progresses it becomes increasingly clear that the narrator himself is unreliable.

Dismissal from UBC

In 2014, Galloway became the head of the University of British Columbia’s prestigious creative writing department. In the fall of 2015, he was informed by the administration that he was being relieved of his duties and placed on paid leave while allegations of sexual assault and bullying were being investigated. Former BC Supreme Court judge Mary Ellen Boyd was brought in to conduct the investigation, and by 22 June 2016, it was announced that his employment at the University of British Columbia was being terminated.

Though the official report has not been released to the public and the principals are constrained by confidentiality agreements, it has been reported that the only allegation that was substantiated was that he had an extra-marital affair with a student. Several of Galloway’s friends in the writing community, including Madeleine Thien, have vocally expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the university handled the case, allowing Galloway’s professional reputation to be destroyed based on relatively little. On 26 September 2016, Thien, who holds both a BA and an MFA from the University of British Columbia, sent a letter to the president, Santa J. Ono, the dean of Arts, Gage Averill, and the co-chairs of the creative writing program, Annabel Lyon and Linda Svendsen, asking that all references to her be removed from any materials related to the university. She explained that she did not want to be associated with an institution that effectively ruined the career and reputation of one of its faculty members, based on unsubstantiated allegations, in order to protect its own reputation.

Selected Works of
Steven Galloway