Tefs lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with his wife, Kristen Wittman, a commercial lawyer and poet. Tefs was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, the middle of three children, to Armin and Stella Tefs, and grew up in Northwestern Ontario. He often wrote about the Canadian Shield country of Ontario and the North.
In 1994 he was diagnosed with a rare and terminal cancer, which he contended with the aid of biological modification drugs and radio-isotope therapies. He died on September 15, 2014.
In 1971 he graduated from the University of Manitoba and received the gold medal for Arts Honours. He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and took his M.A. at the University of Toronto. He was a lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) from 1972-1974 before completing a PhD at the University of Manitoba in 1978. He received a certificate of education from McGill University in 1981.
Tefs was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and has taught at a number of Canadian universities and colleges. From 1978 to 1992 he was Head of English at St. John's-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg. He was a co-founder of Turnstone Press and has been its fiction editor since 1995. He has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and dozens of critical reviews. In 1983, his first novel, Figures on a Wharf, was short-listed for the Books in Canada First Novel Award. It was followed by The Cartier Street Contract in 1985. Since then, he has published seven more novels. He has also edited three anthologies of short fiction. In 2000, his novel Moon Lake received the inaugural Margaret Laurence Award for fiction, and in 2007, Be Wolf received the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. His short story Red Rock and After received the Canadian Magazine Fiction Gold Medal and was reprinted in The Journey Anthology (1990). He has also published a memoir, Rollercoaster: a cancer journey, about living with cancer (2002) and a collection of short fiction, Meteor Storm (2010).
The memoir, On the Fly about sport fandom and Tefs' lifelong involvement with hockey was released in 2012.
- Our Tour de France, The Globe and Mail, 5 July 2008
- Les Rois Tragiques du Ring, in L'Impossible, September 1992
- Tragic Lords of the Ring, The Globe and Mail, 22 May 1992
- The Last Hurrah, West, August, 2000
- Of Ice and Men, The Globe and Mail, 7 October 2001
- The Goalie Mask, West, March 1991
- Figures on a Wharf - 1983
- The Cartier Street Contract - 1985
- The Canasta Players - 1990
- Dickie - 1993
- Red Rock - 1997
- Home Free - 1998
- Moon Lake - 2000
- Rollercoaster, a cancer journey - 2002
- 4X4 - 2004
- Be Wolf – 2007
- Meteor Storm - 2009
- Bandit - 2011
- On the Fly - 2012
Awards and recognition
In 1999, Red Rock was featured in its entirety on CBC radio's Between the Covers. In 2010 Red Rock was cited in T. F. Rigelhof's Hooked on Canadian Books as "one of my first five choices" to be placed on a Canada Reads list. In 2010 Red Wing Films released a documentary on Tefs.