Shani Mootoo was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1958 and raised in Trinidad. At age nineteen she migrated to Canada where she earned a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Western Ontario in 1980. Thereafter, she began her career as a painter and video producer. She has had numerous exhibitions throughout the U.S and Canada, and her videos have been shown at a number of film festivals. Additionally, her paintings and photo-based works have been exhibited internationally at such places like the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Shani said that she gravitated toward visual arts most of her life. A victim of child abuse, she was told to never speak of it, so she found it safer to express herself using pictures instead of words and described her art as “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.”1 After finally acknowledging this experience of abuse, Shani was prompted to return to words, and wrote her first collection of short stories.
Shani began her literary career with a collection of short fiction, entitled ‘Out on Main Street’, published in 1993 to fantastic reviews, further exploring the common theme in every work she creates, triumphing over childhood abuse. Her second book, ‘Cereus Blooms at Night’ published in 1996 in Canada was her first novel and one of her paintings appears on the cover.
Mootoo’s experience as a multiple migrant and an individual, whose family has traversed the cultures of India, Ireland, England and Trinidad – and as an immigrant in Canada, emerge as central themes in her work. She focuses on issues of authenticity and identity in most of her written works. She exposes the uncertainty of the hybrid individual and 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.
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.” Mootoo, Shani. “Out on Main Street”. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1993. Mootoo, Shani. “Cereus Blooms at Night”. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1996. Mootoo, Shani. “The Predicament of Or”. Raincoast Books, September, 2001.
The home pages of Press Gang Publishers: http://www.pressgang.bc.ca An on-line review of Cereus Blooms at Night: http://www.canoe.ca/JamBooksReviews/oct26_cereus.html Ghosh, Dipti. “Baigan Aloo Tabanka Bachanal: Writer, Artist, Filmmaker Shani Mootoo in Her Own Words,” trikone magazine, 1994, vol.9 (4): 5-6.