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Patricia Keeney
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Patricia Keeney

Born in Worthing, Sussex England during an air raid, Patricia Keeney moved to Canada as a young child with her British mother and Irish-Canadian soldier father.

Her grandfather, Patrick, was an Irish immigrant to Canada who sang songs a capella while working as a logger in Quebec. Patrick married a French-Canadian woman and the two of them later moved to Saskatchewan where he made his living as a stud horse dealer.

When, in her professional life, Pat was asked by an Ottawa newspaper to review a book of Canadian folksongs (by ethnologist Edith Fowkes) in which her grandfather featured, Patricia - his namesake granddaughter - easily connected her own poetry instincts to his.

She has spent virtually her entire life as a writer and teacher, exploring the world and its cultures from her own anglophone-francophone, Irish-English, Canadian background.

Receiving her B.A. from McGill University and her Master’s degree in English from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in Montreal, Keeney then spent five years in England working on her doctorate at Sussex University, (her dissertation being one of the first done on British poet Ted Hughes). During this time, she also travelled the continent gathering the imaginative notes that would later form her first books.


In Toronto during the 1970s, cultural nationalism meant cultural introspection and a deepening of interest in all of the arts. For Pat it was new critical interest in poetry and theatre. Now writing for publications such as Cross Canada Writer’s Quarterly, The Canadian Poetry Review and Canadian Forum (where she became Poetry and Theatre Editor) she reviewed everything of literary interest from the works of Irving Layton (the subject of her Master’s Thesis) and Robert Kroetsch, to the burgeoning of women’s writing as seen in the works of such younger writers as Gwendolyn MacEwen and Susan Musgrave.

At this time, she also initiated a column called "At the Readings" which brought her into contact with numerous major literary figures nationally and internationally, including those attending Toronto's Harbourfront International Reading Festival. Keeney subsequently did a series of extended interviews with many of these authors including Ted Hughes, Andrei Vozneszhensky and D.M. Thomas which were published in a variety of national magazines and scholarly journals.

On the theatrical side, Keeney began reviewing for Maclean’s magazine and she was one of the first critics to cover the “new” alternative theatres of the late 70s, companies that included plays by women, gay and first nations writers. She also wrote regularly for Scene Changes and the more scholarly Canadian Theatre Review and served, between 1985 and 2000 as a member of the international Editorial Advisory Board of the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre. Continuing to review literature and theatre both nationally and internationally, Patricia won in 2012 two prizes for critical writing, the latest being The Nathan Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism.

In the early 80s, she began her long career at Toronto’s York University as a professor of Humanities, English and Creative Writing, specializing in Canadian literature and literature by women.

Writing poetry throughout her life and publishing widely in small periodicals, by the late 80s she decided to put together in book form some of her extensive work. Oberon Press in Ottawa published her first collection, Swimming Alone, “a book about risk”. Positive reviews led to a second and third collection in short order as well as translations as she travelled around the world lecturing on her own and other Canadian writing.

Her teaching in Beijing resulted in a volume of her poetry in Chinese under the title Engenderings. Extended periods of professional time spent in France, Brazil (for the Association of Canadian Studies), Hungary, India and Poland have influenced her poetry which covers a wide range of subject matter while offering a particularly female perspective on world affairs. Several months in post-apartheid South Africa led to publication of a long poem in which she offered both political and personal insights into that new and still difficult society. In France, a volume of her poems won the Jean Paris Prize for the best book of poetry in French translation.

With her poetry collections moving closer and closer to storytelling, Keeney tried her hand at long fiction creating what she calls a post-feminist picaresque novel - “a lively journey into sex, self and the creative spirit”- entitled The Incredible Shrinking Wife. A tale of travel and family breakdown, the novel recalls Keeney’s own trip across early 70’s North America in a vintage camper van (subsequently dubbed a hippie wagon). Turning left at Vancouver, it takes the reader on a trek down through Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala (camping in coffee plantations), then across the Panama Canal to an ocean voyage (with the van below deck) en route to Europe where the adventure continues.

In 1998, following a series of extended CBC Radio interviews with such literary stars as Leonard Cohen and the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Oberon issued a well-reviewed edition of Keeney’s Selected Poems (with an introduction by Yevtushenko) which quickly sold out. As the new millenium began, Keeney turned more and more to fiction.

In the fall of 2011, Keeney published two new volumes – a collection of poetry entitled First Woman and a bilingual volume of conversations between Keeney and Mexican poet Ethel Krauze called You Bring Me Wings. Published by Antares Press of Toronto, a specialist in Spanish/English materials, Wings offers a portrait of two writers sharing their views on life as artists on either side of the US border, on poetry and love. First Woman is published by Inanna, an innovative women's literary press based in Toronto. First Woman constitutes a series of personal and political journeys examing the "interior life" juxtaposed against a range of cultures." Inanna also published Pat's second novel, One Man Dancing in the fall of 2016 while the US-based NeoPoesis Press released her contemporary version of the ancient Orphic Hymns under the title Orpheus in Our World at nearly the same time.

Besides her volumes in French, Spanish and Chinese, other translations of her work have appeared in Hindi, Bulgarian and German.

Keeney continues to teach Creative Writing and other literary subjects at York University. She has lectured on literary subjects and given readings across Canada, in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Married to theatre critic, editor and scholar Don Rubin, they are jointly the parents of four grown children and 6 grandchildren. They make their home today in a 160-year old two story log heritage house in the township of Georgina north of Toronto where they continue to write and publish world-wide.



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