Deni Ellis Béchard

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Deni Ellis Béchard
Béchard in Cambridge, MA, December 2015
Béchard in Cambridge, MA, December 2015
Nationality American Canadian
Alma mater Marlboro College;
Middlebury College;
University of Guelph
Genre novel, journalism, memoir, photography
Notable awards Commonwealth Writers Prize

Deni Ellis Béchard, also known as Denis Yvan Béchard (born in 1984 in British Columbia) is a Canadian-American novelist.

His novel, Vandal Love (2006), won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book.[1] It was a finalist for the 2009 Combat des livres, broadcast on Radio-Canada.[2] His second book, Cures for Hunger, was a memoir about growing up with his father who robbed banks, and was an pick for one of the best memoirs of 2012. He has written a book of journalism, Of Bonobos and Men: a Journey to the Heart of the Congo, which won the 2015 Nautilus Book Award for Investigative Journalism as well as the Nautilus Book Award Grand Prize. He coauthored Kuei: a Conversation on Racism, book about racism against First Nations People in Canada, written in epistolary form with the Innu poet Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine.

His most recent novel, Into the Sun, about the Civilian Surge in Afghanistan, won the 2017 Midwest Book Award for Literary Fiction and has been described by National Book Award-winning author Phil Klay as a "Ferociously intelligent and intensely gripping portrait of the expatriate community in Kabul." It was a CLMP Firecracker Award nominee, was long-listed for the Prix des Libraires du Québec, and was selected by Radio Canada as one of 2017's Incontournables and one of the most important books of the year to be read by Canada's political leaders. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford has compared it to the work of Graham Greene and Robert Stone.

In 2018, he will be publishing White, a novel that touches on many of the themes and landscapes in Heart of Darkness, but in a contemporary setting.


Béchard was born to a French-Canadian father and an American mother.[3] He describes his childhood in Cures for Hunger, beginning with the story of how his father would play a game with his two sons, parking his truck with them inside on a train track and not driving off until right before the oncoming train arrived. When Béchard was ten, his mother ran away from Canada with him and his siblings to live in Virginia. When he was almost fourteen, he learned that his father had been a bank robber, and decided to return to Vancouver to live with him, wanting to be a criminal as well. The memoir tells the story of his disillusionment with crime and his decision to pursue writing.

He graduated from Marlboro College[4] and received graduate degrees from Middlebury College and the University of Guelph.[5] He was French editor at The Adirondack Review.[6]

Although in French "Deni" is normally spelled "Denis," his mother named him "Deni" because in French the ending "s" is silent and she wanted English speakers to pronounce his name correctly. His given name was Deni Yvan Béchard, but in 2015 he changed his middle name to Ellis (his mother's maiden name) because she had raised him and he wanted to honor her.

He has traveled in over sixty countries and reported from India, Cuba, Rwanda, Colombia, Iraq, the Congo, and Afghanistan. He doesn't have a permanent home, though he is often in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has been a finalist for a Canadian National Magazine Award and has been featured in Best Canadian Essays 2017. His journalism and photojournalism focus on environmental and human rights issues. He has done articles and photoessays on endangered wildlife, transgender soldiers, female vigilantes in India, dissident street art in Cuba, surveillance and the military in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan female athletes. Photos from his series on Afghan women cyclists has been reprinted in dozens of magazines, exhibited in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and featured in a Patagonia ad campaign for activism. In Afghanistan, he shot the video for part of a short film on Afghan women cyclists that was showcased by National Geographic. His articles, fiction, and photos have been published in newspapers and magazines around world, including the LA Times, Salon, Reuters, The Guardian, Patagonia, The Paris Review, La Repubblica, The Walrus, Pacific Standard, Le Devoir, Vanity Fair Italia, The Herald Scotland, The Huffington Post, The Harvard Review, The National Post, and Foreign Policy Magazine.


  • Vandal Love (Doubleday Canada / Milkweed Editions, 2006) ISBN 978-0-385-66051-8
  • Cures for Hunger: A Memoir (Milkweed Editions / Goose Lane Editions, 2012) ISBN 978-1-57131-331-7
  • Of Bonobos and Men: a Journey to the Heart of the Congo (Milkweed Editions, 2015); also published as Empty Hands, Open Arms: the Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral (Milkweed Editions, 2013) and The Last Bonobo: a Journey to the Congo (Biblioasis, 2015)
  • Into the Sun (Milkweed Editions ; House of Anansi, 2016)
  • Kuei: a Conversation on Racism (Écosociété, 2016; Talonbooks, 2018)
  • White (forthcoming with Talonbooks in 2018)


External links[edit]

  • [1] Author website
  • [2] TEDx talk on race in America
  • [3] Paris Review article on expats and social media in Kabul
  • [4] Profile of Jennifer Long, a transgender American soldier who fought in Afghanistan.
  • [5] Foreign Policy article and photoessay on children accused of sorcery in the Congo
  • [6] Harvard Divinity Bulletin essay on the history of the Catholic Church in Quebec and his father's crimes.
  • [7] Article and photoessay on female vigilantes in India
  • [8] Foreign Policy photoessay on Afghan National Army soldiers
  • [9] LA Times father's day essay about the crimes that Béchard's father committed.
  • [10] Article about Jack Kerouac's French Canadian identity and his French language writings.
  • [11] Foreign Policy photoessay on police surveillance in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • [12] Interview with Shannon Galpin about rape and women's rights.
  • [13] Article and photoessay on Afghan female cyclists.
  • [14] Solutions Journal article on how to make nature conservation go viral.
  • [15] Article on telling fact from fiction in a war zone.
  • [16] French language review of Béchard's first novel, by Tristan Malavoy-Racine.