Janice Kulyk Keefer is a novelist, poet, short story writer, and literary critic who has participated in some of the most interesting changes that have taken place in Canadian literature.
Janice Kulyk was born in Toronto in 1952 from a mixed Ukrainian-Polish background. Her father was born in southern Ontario in 1914 shortly after his parents arrived in Canada from their village in Galicia, now part of Western Ukraine, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, while her mother, who was born in the Ukrainian village of Staromischyna in Eastern Galicia, then part of Poland, emigrated to Canada in 1936 at the age of 24. Despite being part of Toronto’s Ukrainian community, her family remained somewhat aloof from it, occupying a distinctly off-centre position within it. As a child Janice Kulyk grew up in the largely WASP suburb of Islington, while her involvement with the Ukrainian community included learning Ukrainian at ridna shkola on Saturdays, spending summers at the Kiev church camp and doing work in the Canadian Ukrainian Youth Association. When she married she added her husband’s last name, Keefer. Her sister is the Canadian artist Karen Kulyk.
After graduating from the University of Toronto, B.A. 1974 and M.A. 1976, Keefer moved to England to continue her studies at the University of Sussex completing a D.Phil. on Henry James and Joseph Conrad in 1983. She then spent a year in France, one in Ottawa, followed by nine in Nova Scotia where she taught English at the Université Sainte-Marie. Since 1990 she has been a Professor of English at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She has published critical works on Mavis Gallant (Reading Mavis Gallant) and Maritime fiction (Under Eastern Eyes), contributed to learned journals, judged literary competitions, taught creative writing workshops, and lectured throughout Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the United States. She is now retired from the university and currently lives in Ontario with her husband Michael Keefer and their two grown sons.
To her academic and critical work, Keefer has added a successful career as a talented writer and poet. She is the author of four novels, Constellations, Rest Harrow, The Green Library and Thieves, and three collections of poetry, White of the Lesser Angels, Marrying the Sea and most recently Midnight Stroll. Her short story collections include The Paris-Napoli Express, Transfigurations and Travelling Ladies. She has also published a children’s book Anna’s Goat. Late in her writing career Keefer returned to exploring her Ukrainian roots with The Green Library (1996), Honey and Ashes: A Story of Family (1998) and Dark Ghost in the Corner (2005).
Part of an emerging and prolific new generation of writers, who have often received national and international acclaim, Keefer participates in the current reshaping of the Canadian literary canon and identity. Intellectually formed in the late 60s and 70s, she is heir to, and, actively participant in, a very peculiar and, for many aspects, revolutionary critical and cultural milieu which has fostered a destabilization of the dualistic frameworks of western thought and opened up a phase of intense cultural, ideological, and socio-political transformation. Despite her scepticism as a writer to identify fully with any specific critical current, her oeuvre is constantly intersected by the influence of various discourses, namely postmodernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism and feminism, which have fostered a re-appropriation of the marginal and the adoption of a politics of difference.
Her awards include the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry (1999 for Marrying the Sea) and the Marian Engel Award (1999). The Green Library and Under Eastern Eyes were both short-listed for Governor’s General Awards, in the categories of fiction and non-fiction respectively. Travelling Ladies was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Canada and the Caribbean in 1991. She is also a two-time winner of the CBC Radio Literary Competition (1985 and 86) and a winner of the National Magazine Award for fiction in 2004.
(Deborah Saidero, University of Udine)
Updated November 17 2016 by Student & Academic Services