Sandra Birdsell

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Sandra Louise Birdsell, CM, SOM
Born (1942-04-22) April 22, 1942 (age 77)
Hamiota, Manitoba, Canada
Notable worksThe Russländer, Waiting for Joe
SpouseJan Nowina-Zarzycki

Sandra Louise Birdsell, CM (née Bartlette) (born 22 April 1942) is a Canadian novelist and short story writer of Métis and Mennonite heritage.


Born in Hamiota, Manitoba, she studied at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, where she studied under Robert Kroetsch.

In 1996, she moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, where she currently resides.

Birdsell was the fifth of eleven children. She lived most of her early life in Morris, Manitoba. They moved there shortly after her birth because her father joined the army in 1943. Her father was a French-speaking Cree Métis born in Canada and her mother was a Low-German speaking Mennonite who was born in Russia. [1]

Birdsell left home at the age of fifteen. At the age of thirty-five, she enrolled in Creative Writing at the University of Winnipeg. Five years later, Turnstone Press published her first book, Night Travellers. Two years later, Ladies of the House was published. Both books are now published as a single volume as Agassiz stories. [2]

She is a mother to three children and a grandmother to four children. Her husband, Jan Zarzycki, is a filmmaker.


There are two main events that have shaped her worldview and had influenced her writing. The first incident happened when Birdsell was six and a half. Her sister died from leukemia. That left a four-year gap between her and her next older sister. She felt ignored and alone even though she was surrounded by 9 other siblings. Her loneliness led her to ponder by herself to the nearby parks and rivers allowing her imagination to go wild.[3]

The second big event that influenced her writing was the massive flood of Morris in 1950. Her first three successful stories in Night Travellers are based on that flood.

In January 2007, Birdsell began a four-month term as the Carol Shields writer in residence at the University of Winnipeg.[4]

In 2010, Birdsell was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada and in 2012 she was invested with Saskatchewan Order of Merit (SOM).[5]

Prizes and honours[edit]

  • 1984 The Gerald Lampert Award (for Night Travellers)
  • 1990 Books in Canada First Novel Award (for The Missing Child)
  • 1992 Shortlist, Governor General's Award for Fiction (for The Chrome Suite)
  • 1993 Marian Engel Award
  • 1997 Shortlist, Governor General's Award for Fiction (for The Two-Headed Calf)
  • 1997 Shortlist, Silver Birch Award (for The Town That Floated Away)
  • 2001 Shortlist, Giller Prize (for The Russländer)
  • 2001 Saskatchewan Book of the Year, Best Saskatchewan Fiction and City of Regina (for The Russländer)
  • 2007 Longlist, International Dublin Literary Award (for Children of the Day)
  • 2007 Saskatchewan Best Fiction Award (for Children of the Day)
  • 2010 Shortlist, Governor General's Award for English fiction (Waiting for Joe)[6]


  • Marion Engel Award for meritorious achievements of a women writer in mid-career.[7]
  • The Joseph S. Stauffer Prize, The Canadian Council 1992, for meritorious achievements in the arts.[8]
  • Juno Award nomination for radio play, The Town that Floated Away.[7]
  • National Magazine Award and nomination for short fiction.[7]
  • 45 Below Award, by The Canadian Book Information Center. Chosen as one of ten most promising below the age of 45.[7]
  • Awarded writing grant from The Manitoba Arts Council, The Canadian Council and the Saskatchewan Arts Board.[7]
  • Nominee for 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award Shortlists: Fiction Award. Waiting for Joe (Random House Canada).[9]



Short stories[edit]

  • Night Travellers (1982) Turnstone Press
  • Ladies of the House (1984) Turnstone Press
  • The Two-Headed Calf (1997) McClelland & Stewart


  1. ^ Ripley, Gordon (1997). Who’s who in Canadian Literature. Teeswater: Reference Press.
  2. ^ "Agassiz Stories". Sandra Birdsell. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  3. ^ Lecker, Robert, Jack David and Ellen Quigley, eds. Canadian Writers and their Works: Fiction Series. Vol 12. Toronto: ECW Press, 1995. Print.
  4. ^
  5. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "The Governor General of Canada".
  6. ^ "Emma Donoghue, Kathleen Winter make GG short list". The Globe and Mail, October 13, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Sandra Birdsell".
  8. ^ "Sandra Birdsell".
  9. ^ "2010 Saskatchewan Book Awards shortlists". Archived from the original on 2010-10-23. Retrieved 2010-11-05.

External links[edit]