Alison Pick

Alison Pick, poet and novelist (born at Toronto, 1975). Alison Pick is the descendent of a secular Jewish family (See Jewish Canadians) who emigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1941. Upon arrival, the family converted to christianity and raised two generations as practicing Christians. Pick grew up in Kitchener and Toronto, attending the University of Guelph for a degree in psychology and completing her MA in philosophy at Memorial University.

Pick's first collection of poetry, Question and Answer (2003), is in three parts. The title section presents poems that answer questions posed within another writer's work. To Carol Ann Duffy's question about the colour of the future, Pick responds by picturing the 9/11 tragedy colouring the future universally: "The future is blue. Squint hard/and it blackens: a bruise, sour plum/ ... gray of the twin match-/stick towers ashing down." For these poems Pick won the 2002 Bronwyn Wallace Award for most promising Canadian writer under 35, and a National Magazine Award for poetry.

The Sweet Edge (2005), Alison Pick's first novel, tells the story of Ellen and Adam, who separate for a summer: he paddling solo in the Arctic and she remaining in the steamy city, working in a small gallery. These two drifting characters and their disparate worlds reconcile when each character learns to accept that change is not foreign but part of all life, past and present: "The new requires a piece of the old to root into." The Sweet Edge was named to the Globe and Mail's 2005 Top 100 Book list and optioned for film.

In 2006 Pick won the CBC Literary Prize for Poetry for her poem "Mind's Eye," and two years later The Dream World (2008) was published to critical acclaim. Written over five years, partially in a Saskatchewan monastery, Pick explores the hidden elements of daily living using language that lifts the ordinary into the lyric. "Alone in the Woods for the Rest of the Winter" records the beauty of simply waking on a winter morning: "I wake and the fire in the woodstove's gone out./ The valley filling with snow. Branches lift/ slender arms to pull on lambswool sweaters./.../snow sifting silently down -". With this volume, Pick established herself as a vital voice in Canada's poetic landscape.

Alison Pick's second novel, Far To Go (2010), was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and received the 2011 Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction (See Jewish writing). The story, which alludes to Pick's great-grandparents' lives, describes the Bauer family, secular Jews who live an affluent, assimilated life in Prague before the Second World War. With stark language and exacting historical detail Pick reveals a family living in deep denial of the encroaching Nazis. After witnessing the beating death of a Jewish tailor, they recognize "their own value as a people," realizing their six-year-old son Pepik's survival is as crucial as his understanding of "who he is." The final pages reveal the family's fate and the shocking reality of the narrator. Pick reveals how far we all have yet to go before we can better humanity's persistent failings. While researching this novel Pick converted to the Jewish faith.

For Alison Pick, "the pure pleasure of writing fiction... comes partially from being bound by nothing but the story's own demands, and having the freedom to follow those demands exactly where the story needs to go." When challenged with the question "poetry or prose?" Pick replies, "I'm a plain old writer first, and my writing just happens to take different forms." She concedes poetry's demands for disciplined expression make her a better novelist.

Alison Pick's short stories and poetry continue to appear nationally in publications including Walrus Magazine, Toronto Life and en Route. Pick serves on the faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts Wired Writing Studio. She lives in Toronto with her family.