How Canadians got to know author Miriam Toews in 1997

Winnipeg novelist Miriam Toews's first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck, was her effort to bring 'pep and cheer' to a story of single parenthood.

Single motherhood was 'an experience I couldn't forget about' — so she wrote her first novel about it

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson congratulates Miriam Toews for her fiction book, A Complicated Kindness, at the Governor General's Literary Awards ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 16, 2004, (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Summer and fall 2021 promises to be busy for Canadian novelist Miriam Toews. She will not only publish her eighth novel, Fight Night, on Aug. 24, but will also see two of her previous novels in different stages of their adaptation to film.

The movie version of Toews's 2014 novel All My Puny Sorrowsfilmed in Northern Ontariowill make its debut at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival

Meanwhile, filming is currently underway for Women Talking, Toews's 2018 novel inspired by true events on a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. According to the Internet Movie Database, director Sarah Polley is shooting the film in Toronto with a cast that includes actors Frances McDormand, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy. McDormand is also a producer.

That was all yet to come back in 1997, when Toews was a guest on CBC's Midday to discuss her debut novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck.  

'An experience I couldn't forget'

First-time author Miriam Toews

25 years ago
The Winnipeg writer discusses her novel Summer of My Amazing Luck on CBC's Midday in 1997. 6:49

"This is a wonderful, humorous look at single motherhood," said host Tina Srebotnjak, seated opposite Toews at a cafe inside a Winnipeg bookstore. "Tell me why you wanted to write about single moms."

Toews said the novel stemmed from her own life.

"I had my own experience with being a single mother about 10 years ago," she said. "It was an experience that I couldn't forget and I couldn't just wash out of my system... and so I decided to write about it."

Some of Toews's subsequent novels would also have settings and situations drawn from her own life. In a 2019 profile in The New Yorker she described 2004's A Complicated Kindness as her "coming-of-age story."  

Toews told Srebotnjak she had originally wanted to make a radio documentary about "welfare moms," but changed her mind when picturing how audiences might react. 

'Pep and cheer'

"It all seemed so down... I could see everybody switching it off." she said. "So I thought, how can I make it different, how can I give it a little bit of pep and cheer?"

The "pep and cheer" she brought to the fictionalized characters in the novel came through. According to the Globe and Mail, Summer of My Amazing Luck earned Toews a nomination for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. The book also won the John Hirsch Award for for Most Promising Manitoba Writer.

Toews said she was almost finished writing her second novel.

"It's about Canada's smallest town," she said. "It takes place in a place that would be like Manitoba."

She didn't expand on her description. Her next book was 1998's A Boy of Good Breeding.

Fight Night is the latest novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews, to be published in August 2021. (Knopf Canada, Carol Loewen)

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