David
Bergen

Awards

2018 Winner

Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life

Selection Committee Citation

"David Bergen was born in 1957 in British Columbia, but grew up in Niverville, Manitoba. After attending Red River College, he began teaching English and Creative Writing at Kelvin High School, in Winnipeg. In 1993 he published his first book – a collection of short stories, Sitting Opposite My Brother, which became a finalist for the Manitoba Book Award. His first novel, A Year of Lesser, appeared in 1996 and won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. When The Case of Lena S, which came out in 2002, was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award, its success encouraged David to quit his teaching job and devote himself fulltime to the Writing Life. Since then he has published six more novels, which works out to about a novel every two and a half years, including, in 2005, the Scotiabank Giller Award winner, The Time in Between, about two siblings who travel to Vietnam in search of their father: as Shelagh Rogers has said, she likes reading David because 'I never know where he’s going to take me.'

 In novel after novel, David Bergen has explored some of the most important issues of his time, from such internal questions as what duties children owe their parents — to the eternal ones, such as what does a society owe its citizens. His most recent novel, Stranger, appeared in 2016, and takes us to Guatemala and a not-so-futuristic dystopia in America. Alix Hawley, reviewing Stranger in the Globe and Mail, called it 'inventive and electrifying,' with characters that are 'fresh out of the literary kitchen, strong and calm and terrifically drawn.'” —2018 Matt Cohen Award Committee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, and Don Oravec)

2009 Winner

Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award

Jury Citation

“David Bergen is a writer trying to work things out that interest him. You feel like something important is about to be arrived upon in every paragraph, and when you read his characters and what they are doing and thinking, you realize the core of a story is never what the story is really about.

The motivation to begin a book might exist as a dramatic thread through a story, and that motivation or plot may appear on the back cover to satisfy reviewers and booksellers and book buyers, but when you are in the middle of a Bergen book you are somewhere else entirely. A man and a woman may be trying to sleep with each other in rural Canada but one of them is thinking of a mare being inseminated then whipped with horseshoes in southern Egypt. This image and its residual feeling in a character’s memory suggests the larger world within the intimate one David Bergen’s characters are living in as they learn to love and hate and love each other again.


Bergen’s material is both mundane and wild, tactile and complex, and he combines techniques of craft and style such as compressing and elongating time, having opposites collide, using flat surfaces with complex patterns of the psyche, suggesting cause and effect, layering dialogue, back story, humour, drama, passive and active writing, not answering questions, using delay and allowing a part to represent a whole – all these devices to create a modulation in tone and action that carries us through the narrative. These are, of course, classic postures to take with writing to create a modern world, the world as our author sees it, which happens to be a way none of us have ever thought of seeing it before.

We believe in a David Bergen world even after stepping back from the story to realize it’s all rather hard to believe. How does he do it? How does he apply his interests and subject matter, so varied and widespread, so fantastic in ways, erotic and psychological, and make them our concerns? This mystery is at the heart of a very well crafted realism, and David Bergen is, simply put, one of our best modern writers.”
— 2010 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award (Diane Schoemperlen, Rudy Wiebe, and Michael Winter)

Honours

2011 Juror

Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award

2010 Juror

Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award