Biography of Andre Alexis

André Alexis is a Canadian drama and fiction writer born on January 15, 1957 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

During the late 1950s, when Alexis was only a toddler, both of his parents left Trinidad for Canada. His parents were eager for the opportunity to live in a new place, but unsure about how things would work out in Canada, they left young Alexis and his younger sister with their grandmother in Trinidad. This profound feeling of parental absence was quite traumatic for young Alexis. Recounting this experience, Alexis himself has said: "It was hurtful in the sense that I was old enough to know that my parents were gone and not conscious enough to know mere was a good reason for it." When Alexis was 4 years old, however, he and his sister followed their parents, moving from Trinidad to Canada. Once in Canada, Alexis grew up for a short while in Petrolia, Ontario before his family settled more permanently in Ottawa. Growing up, Alexis was drawn to music, learning the guitar at age 14 and taking up writing shortly after. He studied English and Russian in university, but abandoned academia to work at a bookstore. In 1987, at the age of 30, Alexis moved to Toronto, where he at first felt alienated. Now, however, Alexis thinks of Toronto as his true home: "It looks like Toronto has become my city, which I never thought would happen [...] I just thought that I would be here for a while, and then I would go back to Ottawa. But Ottawa no longer feels like home. And I can't really imagine, now, living anywhere else."

Alexis' career as a creative began in the world of theater, and he held the position of playwright-in-residence at the Canadian Stage ​Company. His first published work of fiction, however, was Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa (1994), a collection of dark, surreal, and dreamlike short stories set in the nation's capital that addresses complex and philosophical themes like place, relationships, life, and death. Alexis' preoccupation with place also extends to his play Lambton, Kent, and Other Vistas (1995), in which a Nigerian anthropologist interprets life in southern Ontario and reports his findings in the form of a lecture exoticizing the un-exotic. Alexis's debut novel Childhood (1998) is also highly preoccupied with explorations of place and explores the experience of a young Trinidadian boy growing up in Ontario, who recalls his experiences growing up with his grandmother and searches for a more permanent sense of home in Canada. The novel won the Trillium Book Award and propelled Alexis into renown, but it is also noted as a novel and controversial for the fact that it focuses on the experience of displacement without a major focus on race or racism. In fact, in an earlier article, "Borrowed Blackness" (1995), Alexis states that Black Canadian writing should be, more than focused on ethnic or racial origin, "conscious of Canada, writing that speaks not just of situation, or about the earth, but from the earth...”

After writing the children's book Ingrid and the Wolf (2005), Alexis collaborated with Canadian composer James Rolfe on a libretto for a retelling of Purcell's Aeneas and Dido in which Aeneas gains more emotional texture. He had earlier worked with Rolfe on libretti for Orpheus and Eurydice (2004) and Fire (1999). In 2008, Alexis wrote the less critically acclaimed novel Asylum (2008). It was 2014's Pastoral, however—about a priest who takes over a small parish in Barrow, Ontario—that marked a major change in both Alexis' reputation and literary preoccupations. The novel, inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini's film Teorema (1968), went on to be a finalist for the Writers​’ Trust Fiction Prize and also began Alexis' current project, a multi-work masterpiece called The Quincunx Cycle. The Quincunx Cycle series explores various philosophical themes inherent to the human condition such as faith, place, love, power, and hatred.

The second work in The Quincunx Cycle series, Fifteen Dogs, is Alexis' most acclaimed work to date. It is an apologue, telling the story of a wager between the gods in which dogs are given human intelligence. What ensues is an exploration of what it means to be human, how humans and other animals relate to one another, and a love letter to many parts of the city of Toronto. The novel was the recipient of the Scotiabank Gil​ler Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Since Fifteen Dogs, Alexis has written two other novels: The Hidden Keys (2016), inspired by Treasure Island, and Days by Moonlight (2019), also a recipient of the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. In 2017, Alexis was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize for his body of work. He still lives in Toronto and he has an adult daughter named Nicola.

Study Guides on Works by Andre Alexis

Fifteen Dogs is the second novel in André Alexis' planned five-book series, The Quincunx Cycle—each work of which is centered around the philosophical themes of faith, love, place, power, and hatred. Specifically, Fifteen Dogs tells the story of a...