"I often wonder how writers who write about their own lives do it." -- Steven Galloway.

Steven Galloway was born in Vancouver in July of 1975. His first novel Finnie Walsh (Raincoast 2000) was nominated for the Books in Canada/Amazon.com First Novel Prize. It's a warm, witty and cock-eyed story about two friends who met as third-graders in 1980. From the outset, the narrator Paul Woodward lets the reader know the title character named Finnie will die. This story about teenagers and hockey was followed by Ascension (Knopf, 2003), a novel about a 66-year-old Romany tightrope walker, Salvo Ursari, who attempts to walk a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, 1350 feet above the ground.

In his highly touted third novel, The Cellist of Sarajevo (Knopf, 2008), Steven Galloway took his title and cover photograph in reference to a real life who played classical music among the rubble. The novel refers to an unnamed cellist who risks his life to play Albinoni's Adagio once a day, for 22 days, to commemorate 22 people who he saw killed by a mortar attack as they were standing in a line-up to buy bread. Each day when he revisits the point of impact for his performance, he is protected by a gifted female sniper named Arrow who has been assigned to protect him. But that's really only a small part of the story.

Set during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s, the novel chiefly portrays a loner named Dragan who trades bread for shelter, and a family man named Kenan who must make a weekly trek through the war-torn streets to get water for his family. The photo of the real-life cellist on the cover of the book, used without the permission of knowledge of the cellist in order to galvanize attention for a novel that was not chiefly about the cellist at all, only gained critical attention longer after its publication. The Cellist of Sarajevo received the 2009 George Ryga Prize for best book by a B.C. author about social issues.

Writing in Dooney's Cafe, critic Stan Persky has summarized: "In the wake of a mortar explosion in beseiged Sarajevo that killed 22 Bosnian civilians as they queued to buy bread, a cellist who lived nearby, Vedran Smailovic, decided to defy the city's tormenters -deadly enemy snipers - by playing his cello for 22 successive days in the rubble of the atrocity. The work he performed is a piece known as "Albinoni's Adagio,"; and it, too, has a story of its own, a morally ambiguous one about whether it's an authentic or fraudulent composition, which Galloway briefly discusses. The vignette about the cellist of Sarajevo occupies only a few pages at the beginning of Galloway's novel, and the rest of the book is a fictional exploration of the life-and-death moral dilemmas faced by the citizens of Sarajevo, based, I gather, on extensive interviews Galloway conducted with inhabitants of the Bosnian capital.

"An artist-friend of Galloway's, Deryk Houston, who also happened to know the real cellist of Sarajevo, Smailovic, suggested to the Canadian author, who was 32 at the time, that he should inform the cellist about his literary project, and perhaps offer him remuneration. When Galloway replied that he didn't see the need to do so, Houston wrote to Smailovic, who had in the intervening years moved to Northern Ireland, where he lived a rather reclusive life, to tell him about the book rather than having him only learn of it when it appeared in bookshops. Though Galloway eventually sent the cellist an inscribed copy, Smailovic was furious at what he regarded as the theft of his name and identity, an act of cultural (mis)appropriation.

"The story has a more or less happy denouement. Some time after the personal controversy ignited, Houston offered to accompany Galloway to Northern Ireland to meet the cellist. Galloway agreed, and eventually, in a hotel pub, after some awkward moments (Smailovic refused to shake hands with the writer), Smailovic got some of his anger off his chest, the Guinness flowed, as did the conversation, and in the end the musician and the novelist shook hands. (Cf., Deryk Houston, "Vedran Smailovic - 'The Cellist of Sarajevo',"; The Economic Voice, Jan. 27, 2012; David Sharrock, "Out of the war, into a book, and in a rage,"; The Australian, June 17, 2008.)"

Stan Persky generously suggest that because the two men shooks hands for a moment after imbibing, Galloway can be exonnerated.

For The Confabulist (Random House 2014), Galloway revisits the sudden death of Harry Houdini to also explore the man who killed him--twice--Martin Strauss. It is described as a novel about fame and ambition, reality and illusion, "and the ways that love, grief and imagination can alter what we perceive and believe."

A resident of New Westminster, Galloway worked as a sessional instructor at UBC's Creative Writing Department, which he attended, before becoming its Acting Chair. He previously attended the University College of the Cariboo. Soon after he became Chair of the UBC Creative Writing Deparment, Galloway was embroiled in a high-profile controversy as to whether or not he had engaged in sexual impropriaties and/or abused his power as a high-ranking faculty member. The university removed him from his post.

Collectively, Galloway has won the Borders Original Voice Award, the OLA Evergreen Award, and the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature and has been nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Richard & Judy Book of the Year Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the Canadian Booksellers Association Fiction Award, and the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. His work has been published in over thirty countries


Finnie Walsh (Raincoast 2000; Vintage 2010)

Ascension (Knopf, 2003) $34.95

The Cellist of Sarajevo (Knopf, 2008) $29.95 978-0-307-39703-4

The Confabulist (Knopf 2014) $29.95 9780307400857

[BCBW 2017] "Fiction"