Joseph Boyden (born October 31, 1966) is a Canadian writer of primarily Scottish and Irish ancestry, as well as claims to Ojibway and Nipmuc (indigenous North American peoples) heritage. He grew up in the town of Willowdale in Ontario, Canada, attending Brebeuf College School. His father, Raymond Wilfrid Boyden— the most highly decorated medical officer of World War II—died when Joseph was eight years old. Boyden’s maternal grandfather, as well as an uncle on his father’s side, served in the First World War; this was part of the inspiration for Three Day Road. As a teen, Boyden suffered from depression and turned to self-harm, and has said that he attempted suicide at age sixteen. Some writers and journalists have questioned Boyden’s indigenous ethnicity on the grounds that there is no traceable evidence of his Indigenous lineage; others have responded that the lack of written records makes tracing his heritage difficult but does not controvert the authenticity of oral history passed down to Boyden by family members. Boyden was educated at York University and earned an MFA at the University of New Orleans. He is married to the writer Amanda Boyden and splits his time between Ontario and Louisiana.
Much of Boyden’s writing centers on the historical and contemporary experiences of the First Nations people of Northern Ontario. Three Day Road, his debut novel, was a finalist for Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction, was selected for the Today Show Book Club, and won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year Award, the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award. His second novel, Through Black Spruce, was a national bestseller in Canada and a recipient of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious fiction award; it was also named the Canadian Booksellers Association Fiction Book of the Year and earned Boyden the CBA’s Author of the Year Award. His third book, Orenda, was published in 2013, longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013, and named the winner of the 2014 edition of Canada Reads. He is also the author of Wenjack (2016), the nonfiction book Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont (2010), and the short story collection Born with a Tooth (2001). Boyden received an honorary degree from Nipissing University in 2009 and Algoma University in 2013.