Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Deborah Ellis

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Deborah Ellis was born in 1960 in Cochrane, Ontario, and was raised in Paris, Ontario. While still in high school, she got involved in the anti-nuclear war movement in the late 1970s, and that lead to further involvement in politics, particularly feminism and projects aimed at drawing attention to the consequences of war. She had been writing since she was a child, and published Looking For X in l999, followed by the novels about Afghanistan. She has been able to travel around the world, meeting people who have survived serious calamities brought about by other people's decisions, and has recorded their stories for others to read and learn from. She lives in Simcoe, Ontario.

Ten Questions With Deborah Ellis


What was your first publication and where was it published?


First book published was a very badly-written novel called Hailey and Scotia, about two women in Southern Ontario falling in love while working against the Klu Klux Klan. It sold about a dozen copies and the small San Francisco publisher went out of business soon after. Then came Looking for X in l999, published by Groundwood, which did much better.


Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.


The arrest of a dozen or so people in Mississauga, including 2 high school students, on allegations they were planning an act of terrorism, was the basis for Bifocal, which I wrote with Eric Walters (the idea was his). Not exactly a cultural event, though.

Three Wishes

By Deborah Ellis

This book is about the children of the war-torn Middle East. Deborah Ellis, author of the enormously popular Breadwinner trilogy, turns her attention from the children of Afghanistan to the children of Israel and Palestine, presenting their stories based on interviews done in the winter of 2002 while in Israel and Palestine.

In a rehabilitation center for disabled children, twelve-year-old Nora says she loves the color pink and chewing gum and explains that the wheels of her wheelchair are like her legs. Eleven-year-old Mohammad describes how his house was demolished by soldiers. And we meet twelve-year-old Salam, whose older sister walked into a store in Jerusalem and blew herself up, killing herself and two people, and injuring twenty others.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Deborah Ellis – Keep Toronto Reading


Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 6:30pm


Toronto Public Library - Albert Campbell Branch
496 Birchmount Road
Toronto, ON
M1K 1N8


Canadian author and recipient of the Governor General’s award, Deborah Ellis, discusses her novels based on the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.


Toronto Public Library - Albert Campbell Branch
496 Birchmount Road
Toronto, ON M1K 1N8 43° 42' 30.6792" N, 79° 16' 7.5072" W

last entry

This will be my last entry for the Writer in Residence blog. It's been a good experience and I'm very lucky to have had this forum. Thanks to all who read the entries, and to all who support books and literature.

I spent the day in Waterloo and New Hamburg, at schools. Great kids, as usual. Really intelligent, thoughtful questions about the world, how it works, what their role in it can be. The teachers and principal do a lot to encourage such thinking and searching among their students.

Time to go. Thanks again.


With the military kids book almost put to bed - the last bits of fact checking and small additions going rapidly back and forth between the editor and me - I can spend the weekend on fiction, additions to a short story collection. I'm looking forward to it, even though fiction is harder for me than non-fiction. But the change will do me good.

Port Burwell

Just returned from a school visit to Port Burwell Public School, down by Lake Erie. What an enthusiastic bunch of kids, and the teachers work so hard with small budgets to give the students they best education they possibly can. The librarian is also the music teacher. He has no budget for books, so he has a band in his spare time. They give concerts to raise money for the school library. Pretty amazing. The whole staff is like that, and it's reflected in the students. They had tons of intelligent questions about politics and writing and social justice.

Camp Okutta

My neighbours are looking at summer camps for their kids. I saw a brochure in Port Dover for Camp Okutta and picked it up to take to them.

Billed as an adventure camp for kids 8-12, Camp Okutta's marketting tag is: 'What are your kids doing this summer? If they like video games, they'll love real weapons.'
Inside the brochure are cheerful drawings of pine trees and cabins, and AK-47s. And grenades. And land mines. The registration process is easy: 'We will collect your children when it suits us best. Openings come up when kids are injured or killed. We usually pick up new children on the way home from school so parents don't intervene and cause unnecessary bloodshed.'

theatre in Norfolk County

This was a big weekend for theatre in Norfolk County. There's a huge arts community down here, so many talented musicians, painters, actors, and dancers.
On Friday night I went to see the Vagina Monologues at the Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover. This amazing play has been performed in 49 languages in over 119 countries. Money raised from the performances goes to projects to end violence against women and girls.
The production in Port Dover was great, with local women taking on the roles and looking like they were having a wonderful time.

Military kids

This evening I'll be sending the final bunch of changes off to my editor for the fall book, Off To War - interviews with children of American and Canadian military parents who are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's been a long and interesting journey, this book. I'm a little frustrated because there are so many more stories out there, but the book has to be put to bed at some point. As it was, I did many more interviews than it was possible to include in the book. I whittled them down, then turned the whole mess over to Shelley Tanaka, my editor, to whittle them down further. Each time I'd re-read an interview, I'd remember the kid, and think about how important it is that their voice gets heard. Shelley can be more ruthless.

Literature For Life

The co-ordinator of Literature For Life contacted me the other day, and I was reminded of the incredible work they do. Based in Toronto, they engage teen and young mothers in literature circles. The women read books together and discuss them. Not a very complicated process, but by creating a safe space for these women to explore another side of themselves, they are opening up whole realms of possibilities for other things they could do. In addition, it increases the young mom's confidence with language, and with using language in creative, expressive ways with their own kids.

Iraqi children

A friend of mine who runs an art exchange project for Iraqi and American children forwarded a website with photos of how the war is affecting the kids over there. It's

It sickens me that we humans don't seem to get any smarter about this.

An Amazing Woman

An amazing woman came to our town this past weekend. Her name is Saidat, and she did a workshop at the Girls Power Camp, a weekend camp run by folks from Women's Services and the local mental health centre. Saidat's program 'combines music, movement, and motivation in a high-energy presentation about self-esteem and character development'. She uses hip-hop dancing and positive messages to pump the kids up with a sense of their own strength and capabilities.
She does anti-bullying workshops and leadership events with kids of all ages, going around to schools, getting them moving and thinking about how they treat themselves and each other. She believes 'each person needs to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions'.

shelter nights

Did a couple more night shifts at the shelter over the weekend. A local Lions Club had done a food drive for us, and the entranceway was piled high with pasta, cannned goods, cookies, all sorts of food. The shelves are bursting! Some of the food will be used right in the shelter, and some will be made into food-boxes to give to women as they are leaving to start their lives again in their own place. Every item means that hunger is staved off for them and their kids, for at least a little while. It's great being part of a small town - the town really gets behind the shelter and other local initiatives like the food bank and the free Christmas dinners - my Dad and I served at one last Christmas, and there were tons of volunteers for cooking and serving and clean-up.

writing for young readers

One of the benefits of writing for young people is getting letters from kids who are enthusiastic readers, and who have very strong opinions about where a story has gone wrong and where they think it should go. I received a packet in the mail yesterday from the grade 6 class at St. Michael's School in Victoria. They had all read I Am A Taxi, and sent me the next chapters they had written in Diego's story. I was really impressed by the quality of their writing, and by their imaginations and their grasp of the situation Diego was having to deal with. We do tend to remember the books we read when we were young - the phrases and the characters become ingrained in our brains - so its a real honour to be a part of kids' lives through books.


I just received what I hope are the final rounds of notes from my editor on the fall book. Shelley Tanaka is the editor on this project, and she is brilliant in her ability to get to the heart of a story, simply and clearly.
This is a non-fiction book, of interviews, and one of the challenges is to bring forward the kids' voices, coupled with the background information that readers will need, without cluttering it up with my opinions and biases. Shelley is great at pushing me out of the way so that the important stories and voices can come through.

One Night At the Call Center

I just finished reading One Night At The Call Center by Chetan Bhagat - a wonderful book giving a glimpse into the lives of some young people working at a telephone call centre in Gurgaon, India, and about the choices we make and the responsibility we have for our own happiness.

Worked a couple of midnight shifts at the shelter over the weekend. Walked to work as the storm swirled over the town. The roads weren't ploughed and the town was silent without cars. I got to spend my shifts with brave women, and came home in the morning to the neighbour kids sledding down the mountains in the yards. It was a good weekend.

Binti's Journey

Two weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Theatre Direct's performance of Binti's Journey, the play they created out of my novel, The Heaven Shop. I was completely blown away by the performances and by the adaption by Marcia Johnson. The performers are Lisa Codrington, Sefton Jackson, Jajube Mandiela, and Dienye Waboso, and they couldn't have been more perfect as they inhabited different characters from the book. There is one more public performance of the play coming up, on March 8, at 2:30 pm, at the Taragon Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave, 416-531-1872. They've been performing it for school crowds, and plan to bring it back again next fall.

International Women's Day

A big storm passed through Ontario yesterday. I was scheduled to speak in Oakville at their International Women's Day event, and as I was chipping the ice off my car, I had one of those grumpy internal dialogues - "Why did I agree to go to Oakville? I don't want to be driving today! Why don't I just stay home - after all, it's just another International Women's Day event!"

back home

Got home from Fairbanks yesterday. Flew to Alaska via Las Vegas, which was a little strange, but the high comedy came when I had to change planes - and terminals - there. To go from one terminal to another in Vegas you have to go outside and catch a bus. There wasn't much time between flights, so I had to dash like mad, wearing full winter woolies and big clompy Canadian snowboots, past folks in shorts and sandals. Missed the connections on the way there and spent a night on the floor of the Anchorage airport, awakened by a security guard who said I was close to being considered a security risk.

Hello from Alaska

I'm writing this from Fairbanks, Alaska, where I've been speaking at a conference for Alaskan Librarians. It's been great meeting these folks and learning from their experiences. As one librarian said to me yesterday, "Sometimes we are the most dangerous people in the village, since we are ways people can get information."

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.