Ms. Miriam Toews was born in Steinbach, Manitoba, in 1964 and has become one of Manitoba’s most original and brave voices, authoring seven critically acclaimed books.
Her novels explore topics society generally prefers to ignore, such as mental illness and suicide. Yet her deft use of humour disarms the reader and allows her to connect in profound ways as she relates her own experiences of growing up in a Mennonite family that suffered tragic losses.
A direct descendent of one of the first Mennonites to settle in Steinbach, Ms. Toews embraced her Prairie roots and in her youth rode horses competitively, both dressage and barrel-racing. She left Steinbach at 18, moving to Montreal and London before returning to Winnipeg where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies at the University of Manitoba in 1989. In 1991, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
Her first novel grew from a radio documentary she was working on for the CBC about single mothers struggling within the Manitoba welfare system. She believed more had to be said beyond what journalism’s boundaries allowed for, leading to her first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck. It shattered stereotypes and granted dignity to characters who so often have it stripped away. As a result, she won the John Hirsch Award for the Most Promising Manitoba Writer in 1996.
Her third novel, the bestseller A Complicated Kindness, explores religious hypocrisy in a Manitoba Mennonite town and is revered for its brilliance and beauty. It won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, an honour she has twice received.
The accolades continue as her latest work, her sixth novel, All My Puny Sorrows, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. This striking narrative explores the strength of sisters. In 2010, Ms. Toews lost her older sister to suicide, 12 years after her father took his own life. In his voice, she wrote a moving memoir Swing Low: A Life.
Ms. Toews has written for The New York Times Magazine, Geist, The Guardian, Saturday Night and Canadian Geographic. Her perceptions of life have been successfully adapted to other media: two of her novels have been performed on the stage, and in 2007, she played the lead role in the Mexican film Silent Light, which won the Cannes Jury Prize that year. In 2013, Ms. Toews was inducted into the Order of Manitoba.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, to Ms. Miriam Toews, a novelist who sheds lights on our inner struggles, bravely sharing her personal journey.