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Miriam Toews (1964–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Surname pronounced "Taves"; born 1964, in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada; Education: University of Manitoba, B.A. (film studies); University of King's College, bachelor's degree (journalism). Religion: Mennonite.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House of Canada Ltd., 1 Toronto St., Unit 300, Toronto, Ontario M5C 2V6, Canada.


Writer and journalist.

Honors Awards

John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, Stephen Leacock Award for Humour shortlist, and McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award shortlist, all 1996, all for Summer of My Amazing Luck; McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, 1998, for Boy of Good Breeding; National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour, 1999; McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, and Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Nonfiction, both 2000, both for Swing Low; Giller Prize finalist, and Governor General's Award, both 2004, both for A Complicated Kindness.


Summer of My Amazing Luck, Turnstone Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1996.

A Boy of Good Breeding, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998, Arcade (New York, NY), 2001.

Swing Low: A Life (memoir), Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

A Complicated Kindness, Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2004.

Author of freelance documentaries for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine, Geist, Prairie Fire, Saturday Night, and This American Life.


A Complicated Kindness was adapted as an audiobook, BTC Audiobooks (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 2005.


Canadian novelist and journalist Miriam Toews is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Summer of My Amazing Luck, A Boy of Good Breeding, and A Complicated Kindness, the last the winner of Canada's 2004 Governor General's award. In addition, she has authored a moving memoir of her father, a teacher who suffered from manic depression throughout his life and ultimately committed suicide in 1998. The winner of several awards, Swing Low: A Life "engages" readers due to what a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as Toews's ability to present "a strong and realistic sense of a man who chose to use the little energy he had to construct a safe world for his family."

Born in Steinbach, Manitoba, Toews was raised in a Mennonite family where her parents valued education, both having earned master's degree. While her parents were not restrictive, the family church was very conservative; in fact, Toews only saw one movie—Swiss Family Robinson—as a child because she was allowed to go with a friend. As the author later told Powells.com interviewer Dave Weich, the film "magically changed my life…. Movies are as important to me as books. I love them. I would see three movies a day if I could." Leaving home at age eighteen, she studied French, and then lived in Montreal before spending time touring Europe. Returning to Manitoba, she earned her bachelor's degree in film studies. In addition to starting a family, Toews also moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and earned a second bachelor's degree, this time in journalism before starting her career as a freelance writer. She started her first novel after her youngest daughter began nursery school, stealing enough time to complete the manuscript for Summer of My Amazing Luck, which was published in 1996.

Published two years after her fiction debut, A Boy of Good Breeding is a humorous novel that focuses on a Drawing on the author's own Mennonite heritage, Toews's novel finds a teen abandoned by the older women in her family when the constraints imposed by a tradition-minded local minister force them to leave rather than have their spirit crushed.mother and daughter living in a small town in Canada. Knute and her daughter move back to Knute's parents house in Algren, Manitoba, after life in Winnipeg does not go according to plan. Working for Algren's mayor, Hosea Funk, Knute soon joins Funk in his efforts to prevent further population growth so that Algren can win the distinction of being Canada's smallest town—and Mayor Funk can achieve his lifelong dream of meeting Canada's prime minister on Canada Day. Noting that the tone of Toews's prose echoes the work of popular Minnesota writer and radio commentator Garrison Keillor, Quill and Quire contributor Mary Soderstrom praised the author's humor as well as her "short sentences, colourful characters, and a lot of charm in the timing of the telling."

In A Complicated Kindness Toews takes on a more serious topic: religious fundamentalism. In this novel, which takes place during the 1980s, sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel lives in East Village, Manitoba. Part of a Mennonite clan, Nomi finds her family shrinking as her mother Trudie and older sister Natasha seemingly flee from their small home town. Nomi's father reacts with lethargy, leaving his daughter to deal with day-to-day matters; meanwhile the teen's only other source of emotional support, her best friend, is currently sidelined due to a strange illness that has put her in the hospital. Reacting to her strict Mennonite community, which is economically bankrupt and intellectually oppressive, Nomi begins to experiment with drugs and starts hanging around with other disaffected teens, "smoking dope, reading hipster novels, and listening to Lou Reed, dreaming of city people and city pleasures as distant as satellites," according to Quill and Quire contributor Adair Brouwer. As Nomi begins to reflect on the reasons for the flight of her mother and sister, she gains perspective on her own personality: as "a girl fated to overturn rocks, uncovering hissing toads," according to Brouwer.

Praising Toews's portrait of growing up in small-town Canada, Brouwer described A Complicated Kindness as similar to "waking up in a crazy Bible camp, or witnessing an adolescent tour guide tear off her uniform and make a break for the highway." Nomi is also compassionate, however; as Catholic New Times reviewer Colleen Crawley noted, "Even in a town that misunderstands and condemns her, Nomi sees 'a complicated kindness' in the eyes of her neighbours." In School Library Journal, Susan H. Woodcock noted that Toews's story "is a metaphor for those torn between a present lack of fulfullment and the fear of moving toward the unfamiliar—in other words, growing up."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, December 15, 2001, Marlene Chamberlain, review of Swing Low, p. 689; September 15, 2004, Michael Cart, review of A Complicated Kindness, p. 210.

Books in Canada, April 1997, review of Summer of My Amazing Luck, p. 37.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1997, review of Summer of My Amazing Luck, p. 201; 1999, review of A Boy of Good Breeding, p. 188.

Catholic New Times, October 24, 2004, Colleen Crawley, "Perhaps a Canadian Holden Caulfield," p. 18.

Chatelaine, June, 2000, Buffy Childerhose, "Low Point," p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of Swing Low, p. 1411; August 15, 2004, review of A Complicated Kindness, p. 775.

Maclean's, July 31, 2000, review of Swing Low, p. 21.

NeWest Review, April-May, 1999, review of Boy of Good Breeding, pp. 33-34.

People, October 11, 2004, Andrea L. Sachs, review of A Complicated Kindness, p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, October 8, 2001, review of Swing Low, p. 52; July 19, 2004, review of A Complicated Kindness, p. 141.

Quill and Quire, May, 1998, Mary Soderstrom, review of A Boy of Good Breeding, p. 27; April, 2000, review of Swing Low, p. 39; May, 2004, Adair Brouwer, review of A Complicated Kindness.

School Library Journal, April, 2005, Susan H. Woodcock, review of A Complicated Kindness, p. 162.


Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (November 8, 2004), Dave Weich, interview with Toews.

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