“From the publication in 1984 of her first book, Double Exposures — a story told through words and photographs — Schoemperlen has pushed the boundaries of form. In early collections of short fiction from 1986 to 1991 — including The Man of My Dreams, Hockey Night in Canada, and Frogs and Other Stories — she experimented with the genre, defying convention, refusing to be shackled by tradition but at the same time holding herself to the highest standard.
She brought the same imagination and rigour to her debut novel, In the Language of Love, in which each of its 100 chapters is based on a word in the Standard Word Association Test, used to measure sanity. Talk about bold: her novel, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, published in 2001, is narrated by the Virgin Mary herself. In her 2008 novel, At a Loss for Words, her character, a writer with writer’s block, turns to the random words around her — horoscopes, fortune cookies, emails, and self-help manuals—to express a love that cannot be realized in any other way. In Names of the Dead: An Elegy for the Victims of September 11 she lists the names and stories of everyone killed on that era-ending day to present a meditation on terror, grief, and the everydayness of tragedy and loss. And last year, she turned her unique, unsparing lens on herself in her first work of literary nonfiction — This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications — in which she recounts the fall-out from her relationship with an inmate of Kingston Penitentiary.
In 2017, her early and uncollected short stories were gathered and published in a single, magnificent volume, entitled First Things First.
Although never at a loss for words herself, she at times incorporates illustrations in her stories, fusing words and images to create a language of her own in works such as Forms of Devotion and By the Book. She is now creating single works of word-and-image collage.
Through her 33 years as a writer, Schoemperlen has definitely lived the writer’s life. In the process, she has dissected not only genres but words themselves, penetrating the arcane elements of language as a means of getting at what is fundamental to the human heart.”
— 2017 Matt Cohen Award Committee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, and Don Oravec)
“Diane Schoemperlen has been one of the most consistently innovative writers in Canadian fiction for over three decades, with novels and short stories that combine a committed exploration of form with wit and an unflinching, compassionate eye. Hers is a wholly original body of work that reveals playfully, touchingly, Schoemperlenly, the experience of contemporary women’s lives.”
— 2007 Marian Engel Award Jury (Caroline Adderson, Gayla Reid, and Nino Ricci)