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Award-filled year for U of T alumnus

Foran a nominee for Governor General’s Literary Award

Author Charles Foran has been on a roll this year in terms of awards. (Photo by James Lahey)

As corny as it may sound, the stars seem to be aligning for writer Charles Foran this year.

To date, Foran, (a graduate of St. Michael’s College), has received the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction, all  for his biography of Mordecai Richler, Mordecai: The Life & Times.

But that’s not all.

The film, Mordecai Richler: The Last of the Wild Jews, which Foran co-wrote with the film’s director Francine Pelletier, premiered on Bravo! late last year. Foran was also elected president of PEN Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates freedom of expression and works on behalf of persecuted writers around the world. 

“Stars are aligning would be the verbal cliché,” said Foran. “I didn’t sense that at the beginning (he started the book project four years ago), but I certainly sensed it over the course of last year.”

Foran began writing as an undergraduate at U of .He published his first short story in the Grammateion, the St. Michael's College annual journal of the arts. In 1984, he received his master’s degree in Irish literature from University College, Dublin. Since then he has published 10 books and written numerous essays and reviews for publications such as The Walrus, The Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette.

Foran said he realized that he wanted to be a writer when  he was in his late teens. “Maybe from the time I began to take books very seriously; about the age of 16 or 17. “[Since then] I wasn’t intending to do anything else.” 

He  also has had a longstanding preoccupation with human nature. Foran started his undergraduate degree in psychology but switched to English two years later.

“Even to this day, I see a strong psychological level to writing,” he said.

For Foran, studying human nature begins with observing people where they live and this precept has taken him to places as varied as Belfast, Beijing and Montreal for his work.

“I’m interested in how people are embedded in their place, how their place and time defines them,” said Foran. Few people are intimately linked to a place as much as Mordecai Richler; saying his name automatically conjures up Montreal.

“Richler’s work is so obviously shaped by the place,” noted Foran. “He’s the Canadian writer most closely identified with an urban landscape.”

It is the reason why Mordecai begins with a portrait of Montreal.

“To set him up in that Montreal was the right way to open the book,” said Foran. “For him it was quite was fraught, he rejected it all on one level and became very alienated from Jewish Montreal and his family, but never from those streets, never from those houses.”

A long-time admirer of Richler’s work, Foran sensed that a lot of Canadians were looking to go back to Richler and believes the film and biography have given them a chance to rediscover this “bracing, exasperating, thrilling and essential figure.”

 Foran said over the four years he worked on the book many people told him how they missed satire.

“Richler was the one surefire Canadian who was going to say what he thought, rip into people, he was fearless,” he noted. “As I say in the book, the relationship between Mordecai Richler and Canada was our country’s first major conversation between an individual artist and the society.”

Learn more about Charles Foran on his website. The Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists will be announced on Nov. 15.