Sandra Birdsell

About Sandra

I grew up on the prairie whose people and landscape continue to be the inspiration for my work. The further west I go, the better I feel in my skin.

My father was a French-speaking Cree Métis, and my mother a Low-German speaking Mennonite who was born in Russia. My mother immigrated to Canada in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. That makes me a first generation Canadian on my maternal side, while many of my father’s people claimed to have lived on the western plains since the beginning of the First Nations people. I can recall hearing my paternal grandmother speaking a language I now know to be Mechief. My father was a fiddle player, story teller and a well-known and respected barber in the town of Morris Manitoba. My mother was a homemaker and head cook at the Morris General hospital. Later in life she became a landscape painter and instructor in her ceramics business. I was the 5th of 11 children, and I have always thought that being the middle child was the perfect vantage point for an aspiring writer.

At 11 years old I began writing a novel about a large family, but abandoned it after I had filled an entire scribbler without being able to get the heroine out of bed and downstairs for breakfast. I concluded that if I was going to write, there were a few things about writing and life I had yet to learn, and left home at the age of 15. I have been employed as a waitress and sales clerk, filing clerk, information writer, office manager and a volunteer in an inner-city program and an events organizer. One of the first events I organized was a Book Fair and I invited the venerable author WO Mitchell to be the star attraction so that I could meet him. I wanted to talk about writing. WO Mitchell, so impressed by the success of the Book Fair and my management, fondly referred to me thereafter as Atilla the Hun.

By the age of 35, I could no longer not write, and so I began by enrolling in creative writing at the University of Winnipeg and continued to study with Robert Kroetsch at the University of Manitoba.  Turnstone Press published my first two books, Night Travellers and Ladies of the House. Those short story collections are now published in a single volume as Agassiz Stories. They reflect my haphazard journey to adulthood, the uncertainly of living on a flood plain, and the conflict of my parent’s cultures.

I have since published 6 novels and 3 collections of short fiction and written for television, theatre and radio. I have become an editor of fiction, and a mentor in the Humber College Correspondence School of Writing. I have been extremely fortunate in that my books have been reviewed widely and most favourably, and nominated for many prestigious prizes.(Medals and Ribbons) My work has been recognized and awarded by The Canada Council For the Arts, The Manitoba Arts Council and The Saskatchewan Arts Board.

I have been writer in residence at the University of Alberta, the Universities of Prince Edward Island, Vancouver, Winnipeg, British Columbia, Lethbridge, the universities of Waterloo and McMaster, and public libraries in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I am a founder of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and The Writers’ Union of Canada. I am also a member of the Manitoba Metis Federation. Currently I am President of Sage Hill Writing Experience based in Saskatoon Saskatchewan.

Throughout my writing life I have been pleased to be able to serve on numerous volunteer arts related boards engaged in the advancement and funding of the arts in Canada. I have been invited to attend conferences and readings in countries such as the Harbourfront International Festival of Authors, the Winnipeg and Vancouver literary festivals, the University of Messina and Ca’ Foscari, Italy, Canada House in London, England, Nottingham, Washington State University, University of Upper State New York, University of North Dakota.

I am pleased to say that I eventually finished writing the novel I began when I was 11 years old. And I did, at last, manage to get the heroine out of bed. Children of the Day, a story about a large family, was published in 2005 by Random House Canada.

My greatest accomplishment in life is that I am mother to three children, and grandmother to four grandchildren. I  live in Regina, Saskatchewan with my life partner, a filmmaker, Jan Zarzycki. However, Winnipeg remains my spiritual center, specifically, a certain rock at the forks of the Assiniboine and the Red River.

Sandra’s select bibliography

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