About Sharon Kirsch

I was born on the flat in a city defined by a mountain—Montreal, or Mount Royal, a singular hybrid of English- and French-Canadian languages and cultures. From an early age, I was drawn to reading in the closet, as well as cataloguing inch-high plastic animals like pink alligators, blue beavers and purple bison. These early pursuits would foreshadow my later interests.

My first published work appeared in a compilation of writing from elementary school students at Montreal’s Protestant School Board. It was a poem about poverty, influenced by my recent travels with my parents to Mexico and the street children we encountered there.

As the sole child of older middle class parents, I enjoyed the luxury of wide-ranging travel—to the Canary Islands, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and the Caribbean. I became an avid reader of British children’s books, developing a longing to visit the country where my father had been posted as a medical officer and where I might learn to make an apple-pie bed.

Postcard

After graduating from McGill University in Montreal with a degree in English, I lost no time in applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate study in the United Kingdom. One of the most precious letters I’ve ever received—in an inauspicious thin blue airmail envelope—announced the news of my award. I was to study Middle English literature at the Centre for Medieval Studies in York, England.

Once in England, I thrived on hiking the rugged Yorkshire coast and moors; joining the student medieval drama group, the Lords of Misrule; and riding the fast train down to London for theatre and art exhibits. The course and thesis work, I found less compelling. As soon as I’d completed my post-graduate degree, I sought employment in book publishing, in my spare time writing travel stories and profiles for magazines and newspapers.

With my new husband, Mark, a landscape historian I’d met in York, I relocated to Washington, D.C. There I continued my freelance journalism while volunteering for the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC). It was an exhilarating year. For Halloween, I dressed up as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. I hoped my modest efforts at CMC were helping in a small way to save endangered sea turtles.

Mark and I eventually set up house in Toronto. In this new city I found employment as the communications editor at Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organization, where I oversaw the writing of a large team of marketers and publicists. Several years later, Washington beckoned once again. I was lucky to be awarded a place in the Jenny McKean Moore workshop in Creative Non-Fiction at George Washington University, an opportunity that launched me into a new and more ambitious genre of writing. The shift resulted in my book, What Species of Creatures: Animal Relations from the New World (New Star Books, 2008).

I’ve since been based in Toronto, where for many years I’ve volunteered as a caretaker of feral cats. Their subtle nature—neither fully wild nor fully domesticated—makes getting to know them both a challenge and a privilege.

The diverse cultural influences in my background, combined with my extensive travel and engagement with other species, have informed my preoccupations as a writer: the displacement resulting from changes of environment or encounters with otherness, including the non-human. Most recently, the loss of essential family (both my parents) has prompted an interest in ancestral history and ancestral memory as explored in my new work in progress—in many ways indistinguishable from my life in progress.