For the next two years Alan Cumyn ran a group home in Toronto for the national youth volunteer organization Katimavik. In 1986 he married and spent the next year in the coal-mining, train station town of Xuzhou, China, teaching English. The year abroad launched a career in various posts in international development, and was the inspiration for both Cumyn's first novel, Waiting for Li Ming, published by Goose Lane Editions in 1993, and for his popular guide to work and study abroad, What in the World is Going On?, first published in 1988 by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).
From 1991 to 1999 Cumyn worked for the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada, researching and writing papers on human rights conditions in various countries.
On leave, Cumyn spent the first half of 1994 teaching in Salatiga, Indonesia. His second novel, Between Families and the Sky, was published in 1995, and explores themes of love, family connections and the coming of age. Man of Bone, a harrowing tale of kidnapping and survival inspired by Cumyn's human rights reporting, was published in the spring of 1998. It won the Ottawa-Carleton Book Award a year later, and was short-listed for the Trillium Award.
Burridge Unbound was published in 2000 by McClelland & Stewart. The story continues from Man of Bone, but leaps ahead two years and features a vastly changed central character, torture survivor Bill Burridge, who builds a human rights organization but continues to struggle with inner demons. Burridge Unbound was a finalist for the Giller Prize in 2000 and won the Ottawa Book Award in 2001.
In 2001 Cumyn published Losing It, a darkly funny novel about the eccentric sub-surfaces of contemporary life. A middle-aged English professor, whose wife is coping with a mentally failing mother and a highly-demanding two-year-old, seeks refuge in a bizarre affair with a beautiful, mad poet, in a week that threatens every aspect of his life. Losing It was shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Award.
2002, Cumyn published
his first novel for children, The
Secret Life of
about three brothers whose adventures always seem to
spin out of
unusual ways. The novel was published by Groundwood
Books. It won
Christie's Book Award and the Hackmatack Children's
Choice Award, and
shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, the Ruth
Rocky Mountain Book Award and the Pacific Northwest
Reader's Choice Award.
Sylvia, the sequel to The Secret Life of Owen
2004. It was nominated for four national awards,
TD Children's Literature award and the Canadian Library
the Year for Children. In 2005 Cumyn adapted After
The play was produced beautifully by the
Ottawa School of Speech and Drama and
performed at the University of Ottawa under the
direction of Janet
Dear Sylvia, the
long-awaited third and
final novel in the Owen Skye series for children, was
2008. It consists entirely of Owen's hilarious and often
to his true love Sylvia Tull, who has moved away to
far-off Elgin. Dear
Sylvia won the 2009 Silver
Award and was short-listed for the Canadian
Association's Book of the Year for Children. Filmmaker
Murray-Bergquist's tribute to Dear
Sylvia can be found on Youtube.
Cumyn published The Sojourn,
about Ramsay Crome, a young
Canadian private in the Great War who gets an unexpected
was awarded the Words Worthy Book Award for best
Canadian novel in
shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Award, and was named
among the top
novels of 2003 by The Globe and Mail, The
and Quill & Quire.
2006 brought The
Famished Lover, a sequel to The Sojourn. The novel
support a family as an artist in Montreal in the Great
struggling to come to grips with his past as a prisoner
of war in the
Germany. At its heart the novel is about the beautiful,
nature of longing. Taken with The Sojourn, the
pair of novels
in both the short and long term the nature of what we
are asking of a
when we send them to war. The Famished Lover has
Award and the Giller
Alan Cumyn's most recent novel, pitches readers into the
wild and often comic romantic obsessions of Stan Dart, a
high school basketball player digging in his heels,
against high odds, to try to deny the hormonal onslaught
of adolescence. The book has been selected by the Junior
Library Guild as one of the best young adult novels of
Return to Alan Cumyn's homepage.