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Maillard has lived in various places in the United States and Canada. He attended West Virginia University and was host of a Boston campus radio programme. He moved to Canada in 1970, attaining citizenship in 1976.
In the early 1970s, Maillard worked as a freelancer for CBC radio, contributing pieces to This Country in the Morning, Five Nights, and Our Native Land. He was active in the Writers' Union of Canada, served on the National Council for two years, and co-founded the Federation of BC Writers. Maillard studied music at Vancouver Community College, played the Irish pipes, taught recorder and the rudiments of music for the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Community College, and played bass in the first band formed by Vancouver singer-songwriter, Ferron.
Maillard's first published novel, Two Strand River, appeared in 1976. Most reviewers didn't know what to make of this strange book with its cross-gendered protagonists and weird events, but Two Strand River soon acquired a cult following, came to be labeled "a classic of Canadian magic realism," and has been republished twice.
Maillard's second published novel was actually the first one he had begun; the book rejected by twenty-six publishers finally – after having passed through eight major rewrites – appeared in 1980 as Alex Driving South. In this gritty, naturalistic tale, Maillard first introduced the fictional town of Raysburg, West Virginia, where most of his novels have been set. The Knife in My Hands followed in 1981, and its sequel, Cutting Through, in 1982. Then, with a fifth book half completed, Maillard was afflicted with writer's block.
From 1985 through 1988 Maillard applied his writing skills to designing university and adult education courses for The Open Learning Institute. His fifth novel, Motet, was published in 1989 and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
Having taught as a sessional lecturer at both the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University, Maillard was appointed in 1989 to a regular teaching position in UBC's Creative Writing Department, where he has taught every genre except stage writing. He served as Advisory Editor of PRISM international for ten years. He is currently a full professor, co-chair of the department, and specializes in fiction and poetry.
While at UBC, Maillard began what he considers his mature work – what has come to be known as the "Raysburg Series." Called "a small masterpiece" by the Georgia Straight, Light in the Company of Women was published in 1993 and was runner-up for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. It was followed in 1995 by Hazard Zones, which was included on the Toronto Star's list of the best Canadian books for that year and was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Maillard also returned to his first love, poetry, and published Dementia Americana, which won the Gerald Lampert Award for the best first book of poetry published in 1994. Gloria (May 1999) was short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. The Clarinet Polka, was included in Booklist’s Editors’ Choice ’03 and has been optioned by Los Angeles filmmaker Liz Friedlander.
In 2004, he returned to the raw material first published in The Knife in My Hands and Cutting Through and rewrote and reshaped it into the Difficulty at the Beginning quartet, which appeared in four volumes between September 2005 and September 2006. The Toronto Globe and Mail selected Difficulty at the Beginning as one of the top books of 2006, calling it "a work of terrible beauty and grace, a masterpiece fit to contend with the best novels of the last century."
In 2011, Maillard published two excerpts from his unpublished memoir, Fatherless, in Numéro Cinq: "Kilroy, a Writer's Childhood" and "Richland."
Awards and recognition
- 1990: winner Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Motet
- 1994: runner-up, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Light in the Company of Women
- 1995: winner Gerald Lampert Award, Dementia Americana
- 1996: shortlisted, Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Hazard Zones
- 1999: fiction finalist, Governor General's Awards, Gloria
- 2004: West Virginia Library Association Literary Merit Award
- 2005: winner, Polish American Historical Association Creative Arts Prize, The Clarinet Polka
- 2005: shortlisted, Weatherford Award, Running
- 2006: shortlisted, ReLit Awards, Looking Good
- 2006: shortlisted, Weatherford Award Morgantown
- 2006: shortlisted, Weatherford Award, Lyndon Johnston and the Majorettes
- 1976: Two Strand River (Press Porcepic) ISBN 0-88878-088-5
- 1996 reissue: Two Strand River (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-648143-4
- 1980: Alex Driving South (Dial) ISBN 0-8037-0196-9
- 1983: reissue: Alex Driving South (General Publishing) ISBN 0-7736-7045-9
- 1981: The Knife in my Hands (General) ISBN 0-7737-0057-9
- 1982: Cutting Through (Stoddart) ISBN 0-7737-2003-0
- 1989: Motet (Random House) ISBN 0-394-22028-5
- 1997 reissue: Motet (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-648163-9
- 1993: Light in the Company of Women (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-223894-2
- 1994: Dementia Americana, poems (Ronsdale/Cacanadadada) ISBN 0-921870-28-0
- 1995: Hazard Zones (Harper Perennial) ISBN 0-00-224397-0
- 1999: Gloria (Harper Flamingo) ISBN 0-00-648175-2
- 2002: The Clarinet Polka (Thomas Allen) ISBN 0-88762-100-7
- 2005: Running (Brindle & Glass) ISBN 1-897142-06-4
- 2006: Morgantown (Brindle & Glass) ISBN 1-897142-07-2
- 2006: Lyndon Johnson and the Majorettes (Brindle & Glass) ISBN 1-897142-08-0
- 2006: Looking Good (Brindle & Glass) ISBN 1-897142-09-9
- 1985: Vancouver Fiction. David Watmough, ed., Winlaw, B.C., (Polestar Press) ISBN 978-0-919591-05-9
- 1986: Magic Realism and Canadian Literature: Essays and Stories, Proceedings of the Conference on Magic Realist Writing in Canada. University of Waterloo/Wilfrid Laurier University, May 1985; Peter and Ed Jewinski, eds. (University of Waterloo Press) ISBN 978-0-88898-065-6
- 1999: New Expansive Poetry. R.S. Gwynn, ed., Ashland, Oregon, (Story Line Press) ISBN 978-1-885266-69-9
- 2005: Wild Sweet Notes II: More Great Poetry From West Virginia. (Publishers Place) ISBN 978-0-9744785-2-4
- 2008: The Best of Canadian Poetry in English, 2008. Stephanie Bolster and Molly Peacock, eds., (Tightrope Books) ISBN 978-0-9783351-7-5
- 2008: Crossing Lines: Poets Who Came to Canada in the Vietnam War. Allan Briesmaster and Steven Michael Berzensky, eds., (Seraphim Editions) ISBN 978-0-9808879-1-4
- Globe and Mail, 25 November 2006
- Vancouver International Writers Festival: Keith Maillard profile, accessed 10 July 2006
- BC Bookworld: Keith Maillard profile, accessed 10 July 2006
- West Virginia Wesleyan College / Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library: Keith Maillard profile, accessed 10 July 2006
- The Difficulty at the Beginning quartet, accessed 20 November 2006