Toronto writer Ann Ireland, author of five novels who also ran the writing workshops program at the Chang School at Ryerson University, has died. She was 65.
“She was a stalwart champion of both faculty and students, always figuring out the best academic solutions for everyone, kind, capable and unflappable,” remembered Toronto writer Susan Glickman, an instructor at the school.
“A revered instructor and co-ordinator of the Chang School’s writing workshops for over 26 years, she helped countless students find their voices and harness their creativity,” said Marie Bountrogianni, dean of the Chang School. “Ann’s exquisite talent and craftsmanship will be carried on through the work of her students for decades to come.”
Ireland was known for her Seal First Novel award-winning 1985 book, A Certain Mr. Takahashi (the inspiration for a 1991 movie, The Pianist; not to be confused with the Oscar-winning 2002 film of the same name). She also wrote 1996’s The Instructor, which was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award, and 2002’s Exile, shortlisted for a Governor General’s literary prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize. The Toronto Star called her writing in that book “an exemplar of restraint and confidence,” noting that “it is a reflection of the strength of a novel … when the only thing worth criticizing is the cover.”
After the success of that book, she didn’t write another for 10 years, a drought that was broken with 2013’s The Blue Guitar, which the Star called an “engrossing read” that was so deftly written one “can almost hear the glorious sounds she’s describing.”
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Her latest book, Where’s Bob? was published in May.
“I’m grateful to have worked with her on her final novel, Where’s Bob? She was a very fine writer, and what’s more, a generous person. She’ll be missed by all of us,” said Dan Wells, owner of Biblioasis.
In speaking with friends, her wit and generosity were mentioned time and again.
“She had a way of framing the most difficult human affairs and making them almost unbearably funny,” recalled Canadian poet Julie Bruck. “Every time I saw her, I was newly surprised by what a tiny person she was, because her generosity, curiosity, talent and wit were so outsized.”
“I know we’ll all keep her memory alive and be reminded of her wit, wisdom and generous engagement with the world through the fine books she’s left us,” said Wells.
Memories abound of her not just as an author and teacher, but also as a friend.
Ireland’s love of writing started young.
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“Ann and I grew up side by side, one street apart,” said writer and artist Sarah Sheard. “We met when we were 3 and became best friends for life. …
“As best friends inevitably do, and certainly writers must, we made conscious efforts to differentiate. Ann went out west to UBC to study writing. I stayed in Toronto. By the time she came back, she was fluent in her style and, like me, was drafting her first novel. When both our books came out, slim months apart, they shared some resemblances the way two siblings can express traces of each parent, but uniquely translated.
“I had quite a different storyline in mind for us, as oldsters on a porch filling in memory’s blanks for one another until the stars came out,” said Sheard. “She had such an astonishing memory. I have now lost her half of my life.”
Ireland leaves her partner, the painter Tim Deverell, their son Tom, mother Betty, and brothers James and John.
Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas