Photo credit: Curtis Latinga
Alissa York was born in 1970, in Athabasca, Alberta, to Australian immigrant parents. There, Alissa’s father taught high school English and outdoor education, and her mother taught part-time at the local elementary school and studied creative writing at the University of Alberta. Alissa has commented, “My imprint from that time is incredibly strong… I’m drawn to writing about people with their insides showing. There’s a boiling down of human experience in small towns.” In 1977, the family moved to Victoria, British Columbia. A decade later, Alissa graduated from high school and moved to Toronto, then on to Montreal, where she studied English Literature at McGill University.
After Alissa met her partner, writer/filmmaker Clive Holden, the couple travelled all over Canada, living in Toronto, Whitehorse, Montreal, Victoria and Vancouver (they were married in Victoria in the summer of 1993). Alissa feels these travels have helped her immensely when it comes to her writing and other projects: “Living in different places opens up your mind.” Along the way, she earned her living as a waitress, a florist and a bookseller. She also worked for a small theatre company while studying acting in Toronto, and appeared in theatre productions in Whitehorse before she discovered that writing was her passion.
Alissa published her first story in The New Quarterly in 1995. Her work continued to appear in various anthologies and literary journals, and in 1998 she and Clive founded Cyclops Press, an independent publishing company that specializes in literary multimedia titles by such writers as Al Purdy, Patrick Lane and Catherine Hunter. Alissa has co-edited several Cyclops Press titles and currently serves as Associate Editor.
Alissa York’s highly acclaimed first novel, Mercy, was published in 2003. Effigy was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She won the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher for her short story collection, Any Given Power. Her stories have also won the Journey Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Award, and in 2001 she won the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. She has lived all over Canada, and now makes her home in Toronto.