Johanna Skibsrud

Portrait Johanna Skibsrud
© Hartwig Klappert

Johanna Skibsrud was born in 1980 and grew up in rural Nova Scotia, Canada. She studied English Literature at the University of Toronto and creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal, with studies abroad in England and Greece. She has been a wilderness instructor in Canada and the U.S., coordinated and instructed a program for Aboriginal youth at risk in the Canadian arctic, participated in ecological and agricultural programs in Costa Rica, Europe and New Zealand, and worked as an English as a Second Language teacher in Korea.

Johanna Skibsrud began to write poems and short stories at a young age. Her first poetry volume »Late Nights with Wild Cowboys« (2008) was shortlisted upon its release for the Gerald Lampert Award for the best debut of a Canadian poet. Still a student, she wrote the concept for a preliminary version of her first novel »The Sentimentalists« (2009), which she completely revised and expanded afterwards. In part referring to her own experiences, Skibsrud tells the story of the relationship between a young woman and her father, a Vietnam veteran who is traumatised by his war experiences. Contemplative, multilayered and moving between three differenttime periods, Skibsrud’s characters strive to access the past while struggling with the painful process of remembering. In order to explore the divide between recorded history and the fragments of an individual memory, the possibilities and limitations of language, and existential questions about the relationship between memory and truth, Skibsrud has discovered a prose style that is as precise as it is rhythmically poetic. Originally released in a hand-printed run of only 800, the novel became a best-seller after being awarded the reknowned Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2010. This was followed by the collection of poems, »I Do Not Think I Could Love a Human Being« (2010), which the author herself sees as a single long love poem. Short stories, some of which appeared in diverse magazines beforehand, are contained in the collection »This Will Be Difficult to Explain« (2011), in which the author deals once again with the unspoken and the unspeakable.

Skibsrud completed her doctorate in 2012 at the Université de Montréal with a dissertation on Wallace Stevens. She is now working on a research project at the University of Arizona focused on selected American and Canadian poets. The publication of her second novel, which takes place between the First and Second World Wars, is scheduled for 2014. Skibsrud lives in Tucson, Arizona.