To gain a better sense of my work, especially recent credits, please spend a few minutes on this site.

Coming in April 2023

In this vulnerable, honest, beautiful memoir, award-winning writer Charles Foran offers a brief and powerful meditation on fathers and sons, love and loss, even as his own father approaches the end of life.

Dave Foran was a formidable man of few words, seemingly from a different era than his sensitive, literary son, Charlie. Among other adventures, Dave had lived in the bush, been snow-blinded, hauled a dead body across a frozen lake on a dog sled, dodged a bullet from a rival, and gone toe-to-toe with a bear. Aspects of his life were like tall tales while others were more somber and enigmatic: A decent father to Charlie and his siblings, and a devoted husband to Charlie’s mother, Dave was a tough, emotionally distant man, prone to gruff cynicism and a changeable mood. As Charlie writes: “He struggled most days of his life with wounds he could not readily identify, let alone heal . . . Not only did my father never get over what had happened to him as a boy, he didn’t try. Men usually didn’t try back then. Their families just had to deal.”

When Charlie turned 55, his father began a slow and, as it turned out, final decline. And Charlie felt something he’d never imagined before: a mysterious desire to write about his relationship with him. On the surface, the motivation was to help lift an inchoate burden from his father’s shoulders, to reassure him that he was loved. But there was also another, more personal motivation. “Late into the middle of my own lifespan,” Charlie writes, “sadness took hold of my being . . . I wanted to say so frankly, never mind how glib it sounded, how uncomfortable it made me.”

In spare, haunting prose, Just Once, No More pulls on these threads—unravelling a fascinating personal story but also revealing its universal context (suggested by the title “Just Once, No More,” a quote from a poem by Rilke that applies to all of our brief lives). With its skillful prose, humour, affecting intimacy, and love of life even in the shadow of death and uncertainty, this short but very full book presents a nuanced, moving portrait of a fond but distant father grappling with the end of life as his son acts as witness, solace, and would-be guide while shakily facing his own decline. What story can we tell ourselves and those we love, this memoir asks, to withstand the insecurities of self and the inexorable passage of time?

Pre-order here.

I have been quiet on the journalism front these past 18 months.  One exception is the IDEAS show, “Surrendering Our Senses: Liberal Democracy and the Humanities,” originally conceived of pre-pandemic and finally delivered and aired in April 2021.  Here is a link to the CBC site. The text of my 30-minute talk is also available through the CBC and the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.


Here is some news for 2020, in the form of a media release:

Writers’ Trust of Canada announces Charlie Foran as new Executive Director 

Toronto – October 18, 2019 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada today announced Charlie Foran as the organization’s new Executive Director. He will replace Mary Osborne, who will leave at the end of 2019 after seven years with the Writers’ Trust. Foran assumes the role in January 2020.

Foran is a Member of the Order of Canada, a senior fellow at Massey College in the University of Toronto, and an adjunct professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto. He is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction, and has won many awards and honours, including the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, Governor General’s Award, the Canadian Jewish Book Award, the Charles Taylor Prize, and the Writers’ Trust Fellowship.

He joins the Writers’ Trust after completing his term as CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship in early 2019. Co-founded by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, the national charity realized a period of exceptional growth under his guidance.

“Charlie is that rare hybrid — both a respected administrator with experience leading some of the country’s most impactful arts and social justice organizations, and an accomplished writer working in both fiction and nonfiction,” said Kari Cullen, Chair, Writers’ Trust of Canada. “He is recognized for his contributions to Canadian literature, and as a champion for freedom of speech. We are tremendously excited to welcome him to the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

“We are truly grateful for the incredible contribution that Mary Osborne has made to the Writers’ Trust over the past seven years. She led the organization through a highly successful period of fundraising and program growth, enabling the Writers’ Trust to put more money directly into Canadian writers’ hands,” said Cullen. “Mary’s exceptional professionalism and wonderful good humour will be greatly missed.”

“The Writers’ Trust is essential to the cultural life of Canada,” said Charlie Foran. “The work it does impacts directly and forcefully. It isn’t only about rewarding literary excellence; the organization provides encouragement and community for authors, and increasingly models an inclusive vision of Canadian literature. Within the ecosystems of organizations that fund artists, it is unique. It is a voice for, and on behalf of, Canadian writers and writing. I am honoured to be asked to evolve the Writers’ Trust into the next decade. There is much more work still to be done.”

The appointment is the culmination of a national search managed by Janet Wright and Associates under the guidance of a committee of the Writers’ Trust of Canada Board of Directors.

For further information contact: 

Megan Leahy 647-783-7668

About the Writers’ Trust of Canada The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through ten national literary awards and a portfolio of programs that includes a fellowship, financial grants, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country. Additional information is available at


After not writing about China for years, I decided to weigh in on the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Democracy Movement.  Here is the text, along with the link, which includes several photos:

From The Globe and Mail, June 1, 2019


In the 30 years since the Chinese army killed hundreds of students and protesters in the streets of Beijing, commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre have lost some of their resonance. This isn’t surprising. It was, after all, a different millennium.

It was, specifically, 1989. The Berlin Wall was about to come down, the Soviet Union was heading toward collapse, apartheid was on the verge of being dismantled in South Africa. Things were looking up for supporters of liberal democracy around the world, and there were hints things might change in China, too – the country was emerging from the disasters of Maoism, figuring a way forward. And so, in the months after the massacre, the West slapped the government’s wrist and moved on, afraid any stronger response would undo the modest progress being made.

But three decades later, there is growing international concern with how that same one-party state is exercising control over its citizens, most notably the massive Gulag for ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in central Asia, and the building of a colossal digital-surveillance network. There is also queasiness over the aggression and agenda of the recently anointed leader for life, Xi Jinping.

If Canada is feeling a little of the aggression, in the form of arresting Canadians living in China in an extradition dispute, dozens of developing countries are experiencing the agenda in full. That is the Belt and Road initiative, a state-fuelled development campaign in more than 60 countries that is fast forging a potent Chinese empire, with many strings attached for the vassal states.

If we are in a collective quandary over how to respond to China in spring 2019, it might be worth looking back to spring 1989. What happened then, and what might have happened had things gone differently, could help us understand what is unfolding now.

Early in the morning of June 4, tanks rolled past the college in east Beijing where my wife and I were teaching. Our living-room floor trembled, and for 20 minutes, it was impossible to speak or think or see much through the dust clouds enveloping the street lamps.

Although we worried part of the battalion might veer onto our campus, students and surrounding residents actually tried slowing the tanks down. They pitched bricks and rocks and requisitioned public buses as barriers. Soldiers fired back with bullets and mortars, lighting the sky. Two students from the school next door died.

As Beijingers suspected, the battalion was headed for the centre of the city, 10 kilometres west, with orders to clear out Tiananmen Square using all necessary force. The sprawling asphalt square had been host to a peaceful seven-week-long occupation by university students and citizens.

The democracy movement had peaked a sunny afternoon a couple of weeks earlier, when more than a million people marched around Tiananmen, or sat in groups chatting about their country and the future they hoped for it. Thousands slept in tents. Hundreds staged hunger strikes, including Chai Ling, the highest-profile of the female student leaders.

By early June, there were ominous signs the occupation should wind down. Martial law had been declared. General-secretary Zhao Ziyang, the reform-minded Communist Party chief, had visited the hunger strikers on the square, where he had wept and said: “Students, we come too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary.” Mr. Zhao had now disappeared from public view.

As well, a group of art students had sculpted the Goddess of Democracy, a 10-metre-high riff on the Statue of Liberty. They assembled it on Tiananmen on May 30, facing the portrait of Mao Zedong. Their intent was to energize fellow protesters. The effect was to embarrass and enrage conservative Party elders, who saw a direct plea to the United States.

What followed was bloody and shocking, especially once the massacre of several hundred people was disappeared from the official record: The killings never happened; only a handful of troublemakers died. The democracy movement itself became a failed counterrevolution by reactionary elements – its status inside China to this day.

June 4 marked the end of a brief period when China looked to the thought systems of the West for insights. It also gave thrust to the models of economic liberalization matched by political and social oppression of the 1990s and 2000s. Mr. Xi’s current iron rule is a continuation of a party policy around dissent that found its defining expression on Tiananmen Square.

But could things have gone any differently in 1989? Mr. Zhao, the highest-ranking official in the land, was a smart and sympathetic leader. Among his proposed reforms was a greater separation of the Communist Party from the Chinese state. All these years later, that remains a heretical notion, and less likely than ever to occur. Question the divine right of the party to rule, and bad things happen to you.

In the end, Mr. Zhao was purged for supporting the students. He spent the remaining years of his life under house arrest, a ghost of what might have been. As importantly, hardliners who now controlled the party ceased wanting even modest reform thinkers such as Mr. Zhao to occupy leadership roles. A wave of technocrats, bloodless and efficient, swept into key positions. They have no lines of thought, except the usual hard ones.

The student leader Chai Ling is another type of individual the government apparently wishes to never obtain real power – a woman. Ms. Chai, a psychology major at the country’s top university, came under unbearable strain as the spokeswoman for the hunger strikers. Even so, her charisma and intelligence were evident.

Hunted by authorities after June 4 – all the student leaders were dubbed criminals, and arrested and imprisoned, if they didn’t flee the country – Ms. Chai was smuggled out of China. She ended up at Princeton University, became a psychologist and now lives in a suburb of Boston.

Two generations of young leaders have been coerced, driven into exile or simply smothered at birth by the rough lesson in absolute power of June 4. But for women, Chinese politics since 1989 has truly been a black hole. Of the 25 members of the current Politburo, 24 are men wearing black suits.

While it may be a generalization that rule by men ensures the triumph of aggression and violence over other approaches to governance, it is also usually the case. China in 2019 is absolute male rule.

Finally, the quarter-century anniversary of Tiananmen occasioned some hopeful commentary around whether the propaganda campaign waged by the government to erase what it had done on June 4, and what the democracy movement had achieved, would have been possible in the digital era. Suppose, these commentators suggested, protesters in 1989 had been carrying smartphones and taking photos, making videos, of all that unfolded, and then broadcasting them out instantaneously to everyone, everywhere, both inside China and around the world. Could the government have told and sold those lies so easily afterward?

This spring, Human Rights Watch issued the report, China: How Mass Surveillance Works in Xinjiang. The report confirms every worst fear about the acceleration of an algorithmic surveillance system now capable of accessing the data of all citizens, and monitoring their public and even private behaviours.

Westerners may be familiar with China’s “citizen score” to incentivize compliant habits. This social-credit system aggregates demerit points against individuals for crimes such as tweeting unfavourable comments about China or complaining about corrupt officials. Those citizens are then denied jobs and apartments as punishment.

The HRW report focuses on a mobile app that shares among police and security forces in Xinjiang, in the country’s northwest, everything about individuals that deviates from the norm, information lifted from servers and apps and individual cellphones, including ones that are offline. “Micro-clues” of suspect behaviour include gasoline purchases, whether a person uses the back door of their home, if they buy a new phone with foreign numbers on it. “Xinjiang police,” the report says, “are using illegally gathered information about people’s entirely lawful behaviour – and using it against them.”

The result, for Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to HRW, is a nightmare of “mass arbitrary detention, forced political indoctrination, restrictions on movement and religious oppression.” These latest digital-surveillance techniques will shortly spread across the rest of China, and be employed against the Han majority as well.

Had the students in 1989 been carrying phones, the crackdown would surely have been far worse – for them, their families and friends, and their colleagues. The roundup of dissidents would have been swift and sweeping, and no one would have slipped away, including Ms. Ling. Her prison sentence would have been long and devastating. Likewise, should there ever be another attempt at a democracy movement in China, those involved will come under immediate surveillance, likely before any free thoughts leave their computers, or even their mouths. They won’t stand a chance.

That is the Communist Party-ruled China the West is grappling with in 2019. Reformers never get near power; men rule by fear and intimidation; technology aids and abets unlawful social monitoring and coercion. Had the 1989 democracy movement triumphed, even to the extent of triggering an examination of the fair limits of political expression in a nation with no history of democratic institutions, some of this might look different. But it didn’t, and the moment for such outrageous and courageous public gestures of citizenship has come and gone.

In a way, the rest of the world should do on each anniversary of June 4 what Chinese inside their own country cannot. Remember the dead by name. Honour the brave aloud. Declare that those astonishing weeks before the massacre did happen, and were not erased by the violence. Affirm that the feelings, thoughts and hopes behind the democracy movement were real, and authentic to many Chinese hearts and minds.


On May 24, I gave the keynote at the Peterborough Arts Awards luncheon.  Below is part of the text:

from ‘How to Unlearn as an Artist:’

Though the artists being celebrated today aren’t all well into their careers, I want to use my few minutes to talk about something that may seem more applicable to those who’ve been practicing for a while.  But my thoughts aren’t, in the end, only about mid-career.  They aren’t only about art.

Let me start with the idea of unlearning how to be an artist.  I’m going to suggest that in 2019 the creators of art are being held up to greater scrutiny, and subject to deeper critiques, than during any period since the 1960s.  I am not talking about digital disruption here, although that is certainly an unsettling and ongoing paradigm shift.

I am thinking instead of the push to re-conceptualize art of nearly all the brows – low, middle, high – as spaces where demands are being made that are, if you will, not directly artistic or perhaps aesthetic.  Whatever you write, sing, act, film, paint, sculpt, video, or dance about right now, you are doing so under the external lens of interrogation of certain fundamentals of your practice.

Ours is an age where much that is normative – i.e artistic business as usual — is being re-examined and critiqued for whether it is, in effect, part of the problem or the solution.  Being neutral, apolitical, just entertainment, isn’t automatically recognized or accepted as rationale or excuse.  It certainly isn’t comfortable being too comfortable about what you do.

A few examples of these interrogations:

Is the voice you use ‘yours’ to express with?

Are the representations of others in your work fair and earned?

Is there conscious or unconscious bias, or even privilege, in how you express, and why, and what kind of space your practice takes up?

Are you reinforcing power, knowingly or not, or are you challenging it?

If you believe, as an artist citizen, in the power of contesting spaces in society, why wouldn’t your own work be part of that discussion?  If you believe in making room for others, why still take up so much room yourself?

Many of you will be familiar with these queries, and even be leaders in framing them.  It is, as I say, a time of scrutiny of artists and art, under the banner of challenging the larger forces of business-as-usual in society.

Now, all of this may or may not fit into what you want to achieve with your books, plays, films, dance, music.  No one gets to tell you that, nor should they feel entitled.  For most artists I know, their art is how they are in the world perceptually, intellectually, aesthetically, even ethically.  You don’t up and shift those things in response to others’ telling you to.  Truth is, you may not be able to, at least not all at once.  Open, active minds change, wide, clear perspectives shift, but in their own time.  That said, listening closely and humbly, and then reflecting in the same spirit, is sound professional practice.

And as an artist you do want your practice alert and alive, a little unsettled, a little on edge.   You should, in that sense, be self-contesting, unlearning what you knew five or ten or twenty years ago.  You should introspect yourself, as the late, great Aretha Franklin might have put it.  Be your own most aggressive challenge to complacency. Call bullshit on yourself before anyone else can.

That may be one sure path to deepening your work, opening it up to the energies out there, the thrum of the present creative eruptions and disruptions.  Almost certainly you will produce better stuff if you try.  Almost certainly you will yourself in a stronger position to be the new – what art, on some level, is meant to be.

As mentioned, this may seem like advice primarily for mid-career artists, like many of you being celebrated today.  These are certainly reflective thoughts, part of a process that comes naturally after a certain amount of work has been done.  But younger artists take note: creative habits, good or bad, are usually formed, or misinformed, early on.

Yes, ninety percent of your time is best spent putting in those proverbial Gladwellian ten thousand hours of labor just to land in the starting blocks of a career.  And yes, almost certainly anything you are learning now will need to be ‘unlearned’ a little bit later.  Motion, introspection, creation and destruction, are essences.

But still, save ten percent of your professional time to keeping an eye on your practice, and contest it where you can, without throwing yourself, and your gift – how, in effect, you see and feel the world — off.

Finally, I am talking today about artistic spaces and art makers under scrutiny in 2019.  But so, increasingly, are all public spaces across all aspects of society, and all leaders in those spaces.  What isn’t being interrogated at present?  If you answer “not my business, not my space,” I put it to you that you either aren’t paying enough attention, or should hold tight and watch what is coming soon.

These larger challenges, too, are for the good.  A nation is a single civic space, like it or not, and there are no roped off sections for VIPs or dusty corners for those not at the natural, or simply seized, centre of activity.  Increasingly, that is how everyone who lives here is thinking about the space called Canada, and they have questions about why others are still thinking in the old ways about who naturally controls what, and why, and who thinks they belong where, just because of accidents of birth and race and power handed down as though they were family heirlooms.

In our age of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, LGBTQ+, #Me Too and Black Lives Matter, of accessibility rights and anti-racism movements, of the umbrella projects of inclusion and pluralism, getting a jump on self-examining civic spaces isn’t only advanced citizenship.  It is wise preparation for the years and decades ahead.


Here is my final piece as CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship

From the Globe and Mail, Dec 29, 2018
How Democracy Fights Back

Four years ago, I was given the chance to get out of my writerly room. Then deep into mid-career, with 11 books published and another under contract, I was offered a position running the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), a national not-for-profit organization based in Toronto. The offer fell from the sky and I had few formal qualifications for the role, at least regarding management experience.

I took the job. I liked the ICC’s mission, especially its work with new Canadians and its desire to frame public conversations around the benefits of immigration and the project of inclusion. My own writing had long been preoccupied with cultural identity and dislocation, and by 2015 the world had awakened to the “crisis” that consumes us still – the largest forced movement of humans across borders since the end of the Second World War.

For me, this wasn’t a crisis at all – it was Exodus, the book after Genesis in the Bible. According to that story, humanity was born in the garden. Not long after, we started relocating.

The American author John Gardner is often credited with declaring all of Western literature to be variations on exactly two tales. One tale is of a person who goes on a journey. The other concerns a stranger coming to town. Both are about people on the move and the challenges and changes that inevitably ensue.

Gardner’s count is probably a few stories short of the spectrum of archetypal narrative arcs. A scholar named Christopher Booker spent 34 years completing The Seven Basic Plots, a more accurate number. Two of his seven – “The Quest” and “Voyage and Return” – are directly about passages. Among the others, “Overcoming the Monster,” “Rags to Riches” and “Rebirth” also usually involve travel, much of it one-way.

In other words, I came into the job with a feeling for the narrative underpinning the Institute’s mission. Though not an immigrant, I have been telling versions of it in my own fiction for three decades. That the narrative has also been the engine for Canada, or at least for settler Canada, from its onset, was another attraction. Alongside the United States, we are the longest continuous experiment in immigrant nation-building.

Now, with my tenure at the ICC wound down, I am in equal parts changed and chastened by direct, shared experiences of how this story is unfolding. What I know much better about it now – know in my heart and mind, rather than my imagination – is mostly the result of meeting the people who are living the narrative with courage and dignity.

For this reason, I am forever grateful to the Syrian family who, during a visit we organized to Parliament in Ottawa, briefly welcomed a stranger into their circle. A four-year-old girl, struggling to keep up, asked if I would carry her on my shoulders. I did so for almost two hours, and deposited her on the bus at the end – all without her parents identifying themselves to me. Afterward, I learned this was a sign of their trust in the village to help raise the child.

Then there was the young man at the 6 Degrees forum we held last month in Berlin who took the microphone and explained to 400 people in broken German that he had walked up through Europe to escape the disastrous civil war in his homeland. Now he was sleeping on couches, and sometimes in the streets, in the capital, lost and afraid. Was he welcome in Germany? Would he ever be welcome anywhere?

No surprise, our decade to date has produced a burgeoning shelf of novels telling us of the news that will stay the news – that is, the narrative of displacement, relocation and rebirth that is our shared reality, now and into the future. The German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck calls this reality “the central moral question of our time.”

But so far, the official response in many countries has been to vilify the story and those involved. This is especially true at the political level, where politicians are building walls and passing laws to deny what is happening and why, usually citing righteous fears and dire local circumstances.

When the U.S. President sanctions the holding of the children of migrants as hostages and recasts a caravan of desperate people as an invasion, he is doing his own ugly, ahistorical storytelling. He is also accelerating a campaign of vilification into one of criminalization.

And criminals aren’t like us. They aren’t like our family ancestors either, who, it is true, were once immigrants, and mostly arrived in distress, and without much welcome or legal sanction, never mind language skills or professional qualifications or the right religion or skin colour. Criminals are law-breakers and wrong-doers, threats to security, even to the state itself. Why would such people deserve our empathy?

Two battles are under way on the eve of 2019, and they are related. The first is around the language we use to explain concepts such as immigrant, citizen, refugee and inclusion. The words we use, in short, to explain the particulars of our particular age. They make all the difference to how people think about these processes and, more importantly, these lives.

The parallel battle is over narrative. Which stories do we listen to in order to frame how best to negotiate, as citizens of the spaces we call countries, the routine and quite natural business of change and evolution? I wish I could say it was just a struggle to create more empathetic fellow travellers for this negotiation, the usual ambition for art when it intersects with politics and power.

But the emergence of illiberal democracies on every continent in recent years is legitimating voices, many of them actual heads of state, who are happy to tell disingenuous, fear-mongering stories about who belongs and who does not. They are fast taking control of mainstream information and storytelling mediums, both digital and analog, and will defend the realm at all costs, apparently – including to democracy itself.
Tales of the new Exoduses dominate that literary book shelf. The list of authors publishing stories of border crossings and identity evolutions in the past decade is lengthy. Notable is how many are crafting 21st-century versions of the tale from their own experiences, direct or inherited. Names such as Kim Thuy, Madeleine Thien, Lisa Ko, Nayomi Munaweera, Ocean Vuong, Sunjeev Sahota, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Gary Shteyngart represent a near-random sampling of this cohort.

By such a measure, Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone might feel a step backward – a white German writing about African refugees in Berlin. This acclaimed novel, published in English in 2017, addresses the dominant-gaze issue through the author’s extensive personal reporting of the actual journeys of refugees to reach Germany and her skillful use of these harrowing, moving accounts in the character portraits.

Erpenbeck also makes her protagonist, a retired Berlin academic, the classic pilgrim. Richard’s journey, from listless onlooker to energized participant, offers signposts for how those of us lucky enough to live unaffected by these upheavals, at least directly, can become both more involved and happier citizens. Progress along the way includes talking, listening, cooking, playing music and even sharing a roof with people now in your midst, and just like you and your friends.

Go, Went, Gone is a humanistic response to our age’s “human crisis,” as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei calls the mass displacements, not a vision of its shape into the future. Two other recent novels reflect on how that future might look, should countries and ecosystems continue to collapse and colossal numbers of citizens need to keep moving. Both the books are dystopian, and start in circumstances after democracy has failed.

Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, originally published in 2017, is fast becoming a guide for how to think postnationally about movement and belonging. His story follows young lovers, Saeed and Nadia, who flee an unnamed city savaged by war and fanaticism by stepping through magical doors. On the far side are marginally safer places: a Greek island overwhelmed by refugees, then a London so undone by uninvited newcomers it debates an extermination campaign.

Nadia gets the fear of the English natives. “Imagine if you lived here. And millions of people from around the world suddenly arrived.” When Saeed says their own country had faced similar influxes from war-torn neighbours in the past, she clarifies: “That was different. Our country was poor. We didn’t feel we had as much to lose.”

The couple end up in a barely recognizable future California, where they drift apart, as lovers do. Much has been made of Hamid’s transporter device, a signal both that he is telling a parable and is deliberately dispensing with the actual migrant journey, the source, perhaps, of too much easily sensationalized attention and pathos right now.

Less remarked about Exit West is its insistence on allowing its characters to be preoccupied most of their waking hours with the same problems of love, sex, work and faith as the rest of us. Being a refugee is not an identity or the sum of one’s humanity. It is a temporary status, albeit a distressing and consuming one.

In the background of the turmoil in the novel are countries that have lost the institutional supports, or even the vocabularies, to negotiate the challenges of a world on the move, and so have descended into chaos. Something has gone wrong with democracies in Exit West.

In Thea Lim’s 2018 debut, An Ocean of Minutes, things have gone catastrophically wrong for a United States devastated by a pandemic, descended into a shoddy corporate totalitarianism, and then riven by an internal political partition. A corporation has invented time travel, allowing people to escape the flu into the future, and Lim’s protagonist, Polly, must actually find a way back in time to locate her lost lover.

Lim’s striking plot innovation – all of An Ocean of Minutes is set in the 20th century, even the “future” sections – is as flashy as Hamid’s portals. But she, too, is more interested in the inner lives of her characters, and in speculating how it might look for America and Americans to be obliged to enact the same narratives of escape and flight and hostile border crossings as so many other nations and nationals.

Here lies the abiding truth. Any country can fall apart. When it does, any one of us may end up recast as the illegal alien, the queue jumper, the hostile invader. Novelists keep making the same point: There are no real differences between humans. There are only the various, and often brutally unequal, hands we have been dealt by circumstance.

Countries and their leaders who suggest otherwise through their policies and their rhetoric aren’t only telling lies about their own histories and humanity. They are recklessly imperilling the only political system that insists on respecting individuals, no matter who they are or where they’ve come from, and which on its best days appreciates how diversity – of identity, thought, perspective – are strengths for a society, not the opposite.

Better language and a deeper recognition of our shared Exodus narrative aren’t only ways to counter the nativism and nationalism now holding such powerful sway. They may be how democracy fights back.

Here is the link:


Writers’ Trust Fellowship 2018 

Jury Citation: “The range, depth, and beauty of Charles Foran’s work is an astounding feat. Few authors in Canada or the world write as eloquently or expertly about literary lions and hockey legends; about the Irish Troubles and post-Tiananmen Square China; about lives caught in the public gaze of history or in their most intimate encounters.  In a body of work that spans the tail end of one century and the beginning of another, he’s proven just as adventurous in his choices of genre — moving in and out of fiction, literary nonfiction, journalism, biography, criticism, and advocacy for freedom of speech and diverse societies. The Writers’ Trust salutes and welcomes to its fellowship an indispensable voice in Canadian literature, a masterful storyteller who has helped us understand ourselves and the world around us one book, one essay, one campaign, at a time. ” — 2018 Writers’ Trust Fellowship Jury

Here is a link to a short film commissioned by the Writers’ Trust for the fellowship.  As well, here is my acceptance speech.

My piece about Leonard Cohen’s posthumous poetry collection, The Flame, for The Walrus, December 2018. 

Leonard Cohen’s Afterlife.

Read the full piece here

My conversation with Chris Hedges, published in the Literary Review of Canada, summer 2018 

There is no plan b; Chris Hedges on the collapse of America

Read the full piece here

Older News

Press Release:

Charlie Foran to step down as the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s CEO

Architect of 6 Degrees to complete term in 2019

TORONTO, July 11, 2018—Charlie Foran, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), announced today that he will be completing his term at the helm of the organization in early 2019.

“Charlie has led us through a period of exceptional growth”, said the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, co-founder and co-chair of the ICC. “Over the past four years he has steered the dynamic expansion and reinvention of our cornerstone programs—the Building Citizenship and Cultural Access Pass programs. At the same time, he conceived of and has firmly established 6 Degrees as a driving force in responding to the rise in nativism and exclusion across the globe.”

Launched in 2016, 6 Degrees is an immersive annual three-day forum in Toronto focusing on citizenship and inclusion. Since then, it has grown to include a series of one-day events across Canada and around the world. This year, 6 Degrees Toronto will take place from September 24 to 26, followed by 6 Degrees Berlin on November 12. By the end of Foran’s term, the ICC will have published seven reports through its research arm, Ideas & Insights, and completed the digital transformation of its Cultural Access Pass program.

“When we first asked Charlie to suspend his writing and teaching career to help us achieve our vision of broader global impact, we couldn’t have imagined a quadrupling of the ICC’s work in such a short period”, said John Ralston Saul, co-founder and co-chair. “We are so grateful for the passion and authenticity he brings to the ICC, and for the truly inspirational leadership that will see us through to the start of 2019.”

“It’s been an honour to usher the ICC into its second decade,” said Foran. “The ICC is unique, not just in what we do but also in how we do it. And from the outset, I’ve worked alongside great people—the best way to ensure that the critical work we do on citizenship and inclusion has lasting impact.”

Foran is a Member of the Order of Canada. He is past president of PEN Canada, a senior fellow at Massey College in the University of Toronto, and an adjunct professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto.He is author of 11 books.

On June 15, 2018, I delivered the commencement address to the St. Michael’s class of 2018 at Convocation Hall.

Read the entire speech here

Charles-Foran-800x533 2

For my Father, published in the Globe & Mail April 22

David Foran: Woodworker. History buff. Dancer. Husband. Born July 6, 1932, in Ottawa; died Dec. 2, 2017, in Bobcaygeon, Ont.; of serious health issues, including kidney failure; aged 85.

Dave Foran loved Hank Williams and Hank Snow, John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Red wine pleased him greatly, as did baked beans and old cheddar cheese. He was passionate about history, especially Canadian and British, and would take his oldest son on drives around Ontario to point out the remaining Orange Lodges – the source, he believed, of much that was narrow-minded and grim about the province of his upbringing. He worked most contentedly with his hands and for a while built model chariots and crossbows that were put on display at the local library. Once retired, he crafted pine stools, mailboxes and bird houses.

He loved the beauty and sensuality of cats, all the more so for their cold killer hearts.

For sure, Dave Foran loved his three children and, by the end, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. The grandparent role suited him especially: helping his grandsons build a tree fort; watching teen movies over and over with his granddaughters.

Above all else, though, Dave Foran loved Muriel Foran, his wife of 62 years. They met in small town Northern Ontario in the early 1950s. She was second youngest of 12 children born to a mill worker. Dave had survived a disastrous Ottawa childhood and gone into the bush, where he staked claims and hunted his food. Stories told of that time and place suggested a reckless young man, the kind that often did not see his own 25th birthday, or else ended up a rooming-house denizen, his best days long behind.

But he got lucky. While visiting a friend in Blind River, he met Muriel Fallu, a school teacher. Soon they were married and living in a tiny house in the town. Soon after again, they were in the suburbs of Toronto. Children, friendships, a career managing shopping malls, followed. Happy, positive things – the opposite of that childhood, or a protracted life in the bush.

His marriage helped him become a functioning husband, father and friend. He never lost that edge, however, and once, in his late 60s, floored a man half his age for insulting his daughter. He had come through a personal fire, and Muriel was his salvation.

Dave and Muriel Foran loved to dance. To jive especially, the hip hop of their courtship days. They jived fast and fluid, at ease as partners, lovers and best friends. Well into their 70s they danced with such joy, astonishing their grown children, who looked away in deference, sensing that the act was, ultimately, private.

In his own final years, Dave was mostly bedridden, if still his mischievous, unfiltered self. They could no longer dance. But they were together, pretty much every hour of every day, until the end, and she was never less than the great, sustaining love of his life.

See article here.

In February 2018, I interviewed the great novelist Martin Amis at the PEN Canada benefit in Toronto.

Amis PEN 2018 (8 of 15)

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