Joseph Boyden

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Joseph Boyden
Born (1966-10-31) October 31, 1966 (age 50)
Willowdale, North York, Ontario
Occupation professor, novelist and short story writer
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater Brebeuf College School; York University, University of New Orleans
Genre historical fiction, First Nations heritage and culture
Notable works Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce, The Orenda

Joseph Boyden CM (born October 31, 1966) is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. His first novel, Three Day Road, won the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. His second novel, Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and his third book, The Orenda, was named the winner of the 2014 edition of Canada Reads.

Life and career[edit]

Boyden grew up in Willowdale, North York, Ontario, and attended the Jesuit-run Brebeuf College School. Boyden experienced depression in his teenage years, and has admitted that he attempted suicide at sixteen. Boyden's father Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was a medical officer renowned for his bravery, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was the most highly decorated medical officer of World War II.[1]

Boyden is best known for writing about First Nations culture. Three Day Road, a novel about two Cree soldiers serving in the Canadian military during World War I, is inspired by Ojibwa Francis Pegahmagabow, the legendary First World War sniper. Boyden's second novel, Through Black Spruce follows the story of Will, son of one of the characters in Three Day Road. The third novel in the Bird family trilogy was published in 2013 as The Orenda.

In 2014 Boyden accepted a commission from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to write a ballet about residential schools in Canada. Boyden's ballet Going Home Star — Truth and Reconciliation premiered in 2014.[2]

Boyden studied creative writing at York University and the University of New Orleans, and subsequently taught in the Aboriginal Student Program at Northern College. He was a lecturer with the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing Program from 2014 to 2015.[3] He divides his time between Louisiana, where he and his wife, Amanda Boyden, are writers in residence,[4] and Northern Ontario.

Genealogy and tribal affiliation[edit]

While of primarily Irish and Scottish ancestry, Boyden also currently declares Nipmuc and Ojibway heritage. His claims to Indigenous heritage have been the subject of dispute following an APTN National News article, "Author Joseph Boyden’s shape-shifting Indigenous identity" by Jorge Barrera.[5] Barrera's article investigates Boyden's past claims of Mi'kmaq, and Metis ancestry as well as his current claims of being Nipmuc and Ojibway. Barrera brought to light facts surrounding Boyden's uncle Earl Boyden, who went by the name "Injun Joe". Earl Boyden was a native impersonator in Algonquin Park and was the subject of a 1956 Maclean's article titled 'The Double Life of Injun Joe', in which he states that he has no "Indian blood".


In 2015 Boyden condemned Stephen Harper during the 2015 Canadian federal election, calling his politics "race-baiting" and "fear-mongering".[6]


His debut novel, Three Day Road, won the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2006, and was a nominee for the 2005 Governor General's Awards. It previously won the inaugural McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award. Three Day Road was chosen for inclusion in Canada Reads 2006, where it was championed by filmmaker Nelofer Pazira.

His second novel, Through Black Spruce, won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize.[7][8]

His third novel, The Orenda, was on the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013, and won the 2014 edition of Canada Reads on 6 March 2014.

In 2009, Boyden was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters, honoris causa) from Nipissing University.[9] In 2013, Boyden was awarded an honorary degree from Algoma University.[10]

On December 30, 2015, it was announced that Boyden was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions as an author who tells stories of our common heritage, and for his social engagement, notably in support of First Nations.[11]



Short stories[edit]

  • Born With a Tooth Toronto: Cormorant Books, 2001.


  • From Mushkegowuk to New Orleans: A Mixed Blood Highway. Edmonton: NeWest, 2008.
  • Extraordinary Canadians: Louis Riel And Gabriel Dumont. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010.
  • Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters. (editor) Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2014. (An anthology with more than fifty contributors to raise awareness of the crisis facing Indigenous women in Canada, with all proceeds going to Amnesty International's No More Stolen Sisters campaign.)