Frances Itani talks about the research process

Frances Itani will headline the Oct. 20 Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series event
Frances Itani will headline the Oct. 20 Canadian Writers in Person Lecture Series event

On Oct. 20, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course presented Frances Itani reading from her latest book, Tell. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Frances Itani
Frances Itani

Author of 16 books, including poetry, fiction, and children’s books, Canadian author Frances Itani visited York University on Oct. 20 to discuss Tell, her latest book.

Tell is the sequel to Deafening, a novel published in 2003 that received numerous accolades, including winner of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Caribbean & Canada region), shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Literary Prize in 2005 and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Deafening is a novel about the effects of World War One on members of a small Ontario town. The author said she felt that some stories needed to be placed centre stage and developed, and so, six books later, she returned to that world and characters to write Tell, which is set a few months after the end of World War One. Tell was shortlisted for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller prize in 2014. Itani is now working on a third and final book in the trilogy.

Itani practiced and taught nursing for eight years before going on to gain a BA in Psychology from the University of Alberta, and an MA in English Literature from the University of New Brunswick. In a creative writing class she took with W.O. Mitchell, she received what she thinks of as the best piece of advice: “You go where it [the story] grabs you the most!” So, she has always pursued stories that deeply interest her.

the cover of Frances Itani's book Tell“Writing is not inspiration. It is very, very hard work. I have to be engaged and interested in the topic to be able to spend 5 or 6 years researching and writing it,” said Itani, noting that what is important is the journey of a book: she says that she always chooses topics she knows little about because she wants to learn.

Deafening, the first book in this trilogy about war and its long-lasting effects, started with a serendipitous pull off Highway 2, at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf that her grandmother had attended. The building and the grounds of the school date back to 1870, and this is where her research started.

She went on to study sign language for three years in order to be able to interview deaf people directly and learn about their lives. This is the kind of commitment to research that she thinks is important to writing truthful, honest fiction.

On Nov. 3, Greg Hollingshead will read from and talk about Act Normal.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.

For more information, contact Professors Leslie Sanders at or Gail Vanstone at