"I've always been interested in writing about memory, and in what it means to live honorably in a damaged world." — Emily St. John Mandel in an interview with the National Book Foundation
Emily St. John Mandel (her middle name, St. John, was her grandmother's surname) was born on Vancouver Island and raised mostly on Denman Island, a small, bucolic island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Known for its natural beauty, laid-back feel, and thriving arts community, the island is home to just over 1,000 inhabitants. Mandel's father emigrated from the U.S. and worked on the island as a plumber; her Canadian mother works for an organization that assists victims of domestic violence and is active in the labor movement. Both loved to read and for no reason other than to provide the best education they could, they homeschooled Mandel, encouraging her to write every day. "Although I grew up in a very working-class household, there was a tremendous emphasis on books," she told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "We had a lot of books in the house and went to the library all the time.... I read voraciously."
In 2014, Mandel published Station Eleven, her fourth novel, with Knopf and her writing career took off at rocket speed. The novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award, was an Amazon Best Book of the Month, was named one of the best books of the year by more than a dozen publications, and has been translated into 27 languages. In less than two years, she has participated in more than 125 book tour events in seven countries. "I was thinking of the way the tour had begun to mirror the book; we traveled endlessly, my fictional characters and I, afraid of violence and sustained by our art, exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure, and the costs were not insignificant but we'd chosen this life," she wrote in an essay for Humanities Magazine about touring during a year when news reports were filled with relentless gun violence. "But every day of the tour ... I met people who cared about life, about civilization, about books, and by the end of the tour this seemed to me to be a reasonable antidote to despair." As is, she will tell you, heading back home to her husband and daughter and office where she writes.
Learn more about Emily St. John Mandel and Station Eleven at the national Big Read website. Content includes: