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Deborah Ellis
(7 August 1960 - living) Canada

Deborah Ellis

Psychiatric counsellor, children's author, and activist


Ellis's mother was a nurse, her father works for a hydro company in Ontario. When she was aged between 14 and 16, she spent time in a children's psychiatric facility - "the funny farm", as she puts it. "I still can't quite figure it out. I was really bored, pretty anti-social and not much of a joiner, and people thought that was a problem. I hated high school. In a way it was good ... I think for a writer it's good to be comfortable with being on the outside."

She was raised in Paris, Ontario and from the time she was 17 she has been a political activist, advocating non-violence. After high school she went to Toronto and worked in the Peace Movement. Later she got involved in the Women's Movement, focusing on women's rights and economic justice. She has spent a lot of time in Pakistan, in Afghan refugee camps. Her main engagement continues to be anti-war politics.

Ellis hadn't planned to write a book for kids. She was researching a book about how Afghan women had survived 20 years of warfare, culminating in the tyrannical rule of the Taliban. Then one of the women she interviewed remarked in passing that she had a daughter aged 11 who had cut off her hair and was pretending to be a boy, so she could support the family.

She went home to Toronto and wrote her non-fiction book for adults, Women of the Afghan War. After that, using the background she had acquired from talking to dozens of Afghan women, she spent three months writing a novel for young readers about a girl called Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy to work in the markets of Kabul. Her father is in jail, her elder brother has been killed by a land mine, and under Taliban rule, her mother and elder sister are not allowed to leave the house without a man.

Her books include The Breadwinner and its sequel Parvana's Journey. Both books are set in Afghanistan during and after the rule of the Taliban. Deborah's latest novel, Mud City, was written in 2004.

Deborah Ellis works as a mental health residential counsellor in Toronto and is the winner of the Governor General's Award in Canada (equivalent to the Carnegie Medal) for her first novel Looking for X.


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