Shani Mootoo was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1958 and raised in Trinidad. She moved to Canada at the age of 19 and earned a fine arts degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1980. There, she began a career as a painter and video producer.
She has had exhibitions in the U.S and Canada, and her videos have been shown at a number of film festivals. Her paintings and photo-based works have been exhibited internationally as well, including at the New York's Museum of Modern Art. Mootoo has said that she favors visual arts, because as a child who suffered child abuse and was told never to speak of it, she found it safer to use pictures instead of words. Through art, she has confronted sex offenders with her personal story. "It's very much about trying to find out what the purpose of life is, wondering why certain things that happened to me as a child could be permitted to happen, and why the universe would allow such a child to survive...it's about what to do with suffering."
Mootoo began her literary career with a collection of short fiction, entitled Out on Main Street, published in 1993 to enthusiastic reviews, further exploring the theme common in everything she does, triumphing over childhood abuse. Her second book, published in 1996 in Canada, Cereus Blooms at Night, is her first novel. Cereus Blooms at Night was a finalist for the 1997 Giller Prize, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. One of Mootoo's paintings appears on the cover. Mootoo focuses on issues of authenticity and identity in both of her written works. She "exposes the uncertainty of the hybrid individual" and "she explores a variety of situations in which her characters are pressed to display a prescribed cultural authenticity both by individuals putatively from within the same culture and from those who are clearly outsiders" (Dias).
Since her initiation into the literary world she has written a collection of poetry, The Predicament of Or. She also spent a good deal of time mentoring aspiring authors as the 2002 Faculty of Arts writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. She reviewed manuscripts, provided advice for students and faculty as well as anyone in the wider community interested in developing their craft.
She is currently a contribution editor for CBC Radio's "This Morning". Mootoo divides her time between Vancouver and New York City and is working on her second novel tentatively called "The Woman Who Gave Love Birds for a Present."
Finally, "Mootoo is delighted to be called a 'Canadian' writer, although she was born in Ireland, raised in Trinidad and is of East Indian ancestry. The last thing she wants is to be known as is an Indo-Trinidadian-Irish-Canadian-lesbian writer."
Last modified: 16 June 2000