His debut novel, Childhood (1997), won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and was a co-winner of the Trillium Award. In addition to his writing, he is a member of the editorial board of This Magazine.
Following his parents, who left Trinidad in the late 1950s, André Alexis and his younger sister immigrated to Canada in 1961. After a short stint in the southwestern Ontario town of Petrolia, Alexis and his family moved to Ottawa, where he subsequently spent most of his youth.
Alexis began his artistic career in the theater, and has held the position of playwright-in-residence at the Canadian Stage Company (CanStage). His short play Lambton, Kent, first produced and performed in 1995, was released as a book in 1999. His first published work of fiction, Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa (1994), was short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize (Canada and Caribbean region). In this collection of short stories, Alexis provides a philosophical examination of the mysterious interiors of the human psyche by inviting his reader into the dark and dreamlike spaces in which his characters carry out their everyday lives. The stories are about love, longing, grief and desire and the collection has been described as “exquisitely disturbing” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Alexis recounts how, in his mid-twenties and with just one published short story to his credit, he was working in an Ottawa bookstore when by chance he met the Canadian literary icon, Norman Levine. Although their actual encounter was extremely brief, Alexis was touched by Levine’s obvious humanity. He has said that as a result of this meeting he was encouraged to continue on his chosen path as a writer.
With his inaugural novel, Childhood (1998), Alexis secured his reputation as a burgeoning writer. Winner of the 1998 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award and co-winner of the Trillium Book Award for the same year (which he shared with Alice Munro), this novel was also short-listed for THE GILLER PRIZE and received a variety of other accolades from both national and international sources. Childhood is a poignant exploration of one man's attempt to find balance between his endless thirst for knowledge and the strangely persistent power of love. Written as a fictional autobiography, this novel tells the story of middle-aged protagonist Thomas MacMillan, who, in his struggle to understand himself and his origins, reflects on the relative isolation of his early life with his unconventional Trinidadian grandmother. Although Thomas remains intimately attached to both the recollected places of his past and the city of his present, Ottawa, this novel also reveals the inherent uncertainty of his ongoing desire for a lasting sense of home.
John Clement Ball "Alexis rejects fashionable labels such as "magic realist," "sur-realist," or "postmodern" that might seem to describe his work. And while his Trinidadian roots could place him within West Indian and African-Canadian literary traditions, he accepts these affiliations reluctantly, noting that such writing was not formative to his artistic and intellectual development. As literary influences he cites a diverse group that includes Samuel Beckett, Jorge-Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Leo Tolstoy, and Marcel Proust, along with the Canadian writers Norman Levine, bpNichol and Margaret Avison. His sensibility is often described as "cosmopolitan," which may be code for "European"; it is notable that the issues of race and racism, exile and displacement that vex so many African-Canadian and African-American writers are virtually absent from Alexis's work. Trinidadian origins, when they are mentioned at all, are typically treated as simple facts of a character's background rather than as sources of anxiety or conflict; their visible difference from the Canadian mainstream goes unnoticed or unremarked by most of Alexis's characters. Whether this represents a denial or a transcendence of the racialized consciousness that his peers' writing so often reflects, Alexis's quirky fiction seems destined to follow its own singular path through the contemporary literary landscape.
Alexis published Ingrid and the Wolf, his first work of juvenile fiction, in 2005. Asylum, his most recent novel, was published in 2008 and is set in Ottawa during the Mulroney years. Alexis lives and works in the city of Toronto, where he hosts CBC Radio's Skylarking, reviews books for the Globe and Mail, and acts as a contributing editor for This Magazine.
- Despair, and Other Stories of Ottawa (1994) ISBN 0-8050-5980-6
- Childhood (1997) ISBN 0-88910-505-7
- Lambton Kent (1999, drama) ISBN 1-896356-27-3
- Night Piece (1999) ISBN 0-7475-4461-1
- Ingrid and the Wolf (2005, children's novel) ISBN 0-88776-691-9
- Asylum (2008) ISBN 978-0-7710-0669-2
- The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Literature Alive
- San Francisco Chronicle
- JRank Biography
- André Alexis's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Author profile Quill & Quire
- Profile. Literature Alive.
- André Alexis Biography. JRank.org
- "Eerie Stories That Sneak Under the Skin: Canadian author's Trinidadian roots show in disturbingly profound fables". San Francisco Chronicle. January 9, 2000.
- "The Long Decline: Canada used to have a vibrant critical culture. What happened?". Walrus Magazine. July 2010.