Alan Cumyn is the award-winning author of several wide-ranging and often wildly different novels. His historical novels The Sojourn and The Famished Lover chronicle the First World War and Great Depression experiences of artist Ramsay Crome. His human rights novels, Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound, follow a torture victim through survival and post-trauma. Losing It is a darkly funny and truly twisted novel about madness, while his Owen Skye books for kids–The Secret Life of Owen Skye, After Sylvia and Dear Sylvia— hilariously trace the calamitous trials of childhood and the pangs of early love. Cumyn’s young adult novel Tilt is a funny, sexy exploration of a teenaged boy’s obsessions as he lives through an impossibly absurd time of life. All Night, a literacy project, follows a young artsy couple through a stormy night of hard truths and romantic dreams. And Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend brings a touch of Kafka to the previously ordered love life of a high school senior who has no idea what might fly out of the primordial past. His latest novel, North to Benjamin, is a psychological thriller that sees a young boy, Edgar, dragged north by his unstable mother, testing his formidable survival skills.
A two-time winner of the Ottawa Book Award, and winner of the Mr. Christie’s Book Award for children’s literature, Cumyn has also had work shortlisted for among others the Giller Prize, the Trillium Award, the Governor General’s Award and the TD Children’s Literature Award, and long-listed for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. He teaches through the prestigious Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a past chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Most recently: Alan Cumyn served as Writer-in-Residence at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, and is the recipient of the 2016 Vicky Metcalf Award for body of work for young people by the Writers’ Trust of Canada.
More detail: Alan Cumyn was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1960, and began writing poetry and short stories in high school. In 1979 he attended Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, British Columbia, but found that a year of military life was sufficient. By 1984 he had a degree in English and History from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and an M.A. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Windsor, where he studied under Alistair MacLeod.
For the next two years Alan Cumyn ran a group home in Toronto for the national youth volunteer organization Katimavik. In 1986 he married writer Suzanne Evans and followed her to the coal-mining, train station town of Xuzhou, China, where they both taught English. The year abroad launched a career in various posts in international development, and was the inspiration for both Cumyn’s first novel, Waiting for Li Ming, published by Goose Lane Editions in 1993, and for his popular guide to work and study abroad, What in the World is Going On?, first published in 1988 by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).From 1991 to 1999 Cumyn worked for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, researching and writing papers on human rights conditions in various countries.
On leave in 1994, he moved with his young family to Salatiga in Central Java and taught for half a year at Satya Wacana Christian University. The time abroad and the persistent interest in human rights triggered Cumyn’s two-part human rights saga, Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound, about a tortured Canadian diplomat who survives his ordeal and then tries to right the world. Both novels won the Ottawa Book Award, and shortlistings for the Giller Prize (Burridge Unbound) and Trillium Award (Man of Bone) brought wider recognition for Cumyn’s work.