When not locked down by a pandemic, Ken McGoogan is a globe-trotting, history-hunting storyteller who survived shipwreck off Dar es Salaam, chased the ghost of Jane Lady Franklin from Russell Square to Van Diemen’s Land, and placed a John Rae memorial plaque in the High Arctic. Ken has published fifteen books – mostly nonfiction narratives, but also novels and memoirs. His best-selling titles include Dead Reckoning, Celtic Lightning, Fatal Passage, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Flight of the Highlanders.
In 1998, Ken landed a fellowship that took him to the University of Cambridge (Wolfson College) for three months. There he conceived his biography of John Rae, Fatal Passage, which gave rise to a string of books and a series of prizes, among them the Pierre Berton Award for Popular History, the University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian Biography, the Canadian Authors’ Association History Award, the Writers’ Trust Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, and an American Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Fatal Passage also inspired an award-winning, feature-length docudrama on which he served as consultant.
Born in Montreal, Ken grew in a francophone resort town on Lake of Two Mountains. While working en ville at a personnel agency, attending Sir George Williams University, and living in the McGill Ghetto, he discovered Jack Kerouac. He went on the road with a guitar on his back, hitchhiking and riding freights to San Francisco and the Haight-Ashbury. He performed as a singer-songwriter in obscure clubs and coffee houses across the continent.
With his life partner, artist Sheena Fraser McGoogan, Ken spent a summer as a fire lookout in the Canadian Rockies. He then earned a journalism degree from Ryerson and, before roaming around Europe and East Africa, a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of British Columbia.
Ken published short fiction in the 1970s and churned out book-length manuscripts while working as a journalist (reporter and editor) at the Toronto Star and the Montreal Star. Then, at the Calgary Herald, he created a niche as full-time books editor and columnist – a literary gig, now almost obsolete, that enabled him to attend festivals across the country and to talk books with authors like Salmon Rushdie, Margaret Drabble, Mordecai Richler, Mavis Gallant, William Golding, Leonard Cohen, Peter Carey, Jerzy Kosinski, Samuel Selvon, Richard Ford, Diana Gabaldon, and Elmore Leonard. He met Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood often enough that, when Calgary journalists went on strike against Conrad Black, they joined him on the picket line.
While working at the Herald, Ken published one work of nonfiction (Canada’s Undeclared War) and three novels. He likes to say that his first novel commanded a five-figure advance, though under questioning he will admit that two of those figures were zeroes to the right of the decimal. These days, while focusing mainly on books, Ken writes book reviews, travel articles, and opinion pieces for Canadian Geographic, Canada’s History, the Globe and Mail, Geographical magazine, and Celtic Life International.
Ken has served on national council for the Writers’ Union of Canada and as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission. He is a fellow of the Explorers’ Club and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a patron of the John Rae Society. His Blog is a ballyhoo of observations, anecdotes, and opinions. Ken won a teaching excellence award from University of Toronto, teaches Creative Nonfiction (CNF) in the low-residency MFA program at University of King’s College in Halifax, and sails as a resource historian with Adventure Canada. He loves nothing better than to come upon a captive audience with a microphone in his hand.
With Sheena, Ken has rambled from Tasmania and the Blue Mountains of Australia to Singapore and the Perhentian Islands, and from India and Sri Lanka to Tanzania, where he taught French at an international school. With Sheena, besides repeatedly crisscrossing Canada and voyaging in the Northwest Passage, Ken has gone time-traveling through the Aran Isles, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and St. Kilda. Ken and Sheena are proud parents of the Toronto-based, precedent-setting, civil-litigation lawyer Carlin McGoogan and of Dr. Keriann McGoogan, author of Chasing Lemurs: My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar.
Pierre Berton Award for Popular History
UBC Medal for Canadian Biography
Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, Lady Franklin’s Revenge
Christopher Award, New York, for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit”
Writers’ Trust of Canada / Drainie-Taylor Biography Award
Canadian Authors’ Association Award for History
Grant MacEwan Author’s Award
Writers’ Guild of Alberta non-fiction award
University of Cambridge, Wolfson College Press Fellowship
University of Toronto, Teaching Excellence
Reader’s Digest: Best Historical Writer
Joe Perlove Award, top Ryerson journalist
Lake of Two Mountains High School, Athlete of the Year
John W. Dafoe Book Prize, short-listed
Keith Matthews Award / Honorable Mention
B.C. National Book Award for Non-Fiction, long-listed
Evergreen Award, Ontario Library Association, finalist
National Magazine Awards, finalist in profiles
Writers’ Guild of Alberta non-fiction award, short-listed
Banff Book Festival adventure-travel award, short-listed
W.O. Mitchell / City of Calgary book award, short-listed
Ken has served as writer-in-residence at Mount Royal University, Stromness Public Library, Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, Toronto Reference Library, University of New Brunswick, Pierre Berton House, Banff Centre for the Arts, and Tamarack Lodge in Haliburton, Ontario.
CANADA’S INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES
Over the years, Canada’s independent bookstores have treated me wonderfully, and I encourage readers to support them. For a list of booksellers deserving of special thanks, please visit the Books page.