Authors: Leon Rooke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American-born Canadian short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Last One Home Sleeps in the Yellow Bed, 1968

The Love Parlour, 1977

The Broad Back of the Angel, 1977

Cry Evil, 1980

Death Suite, 1981

The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta, 1982

Sing Me No Love Songs, I’ll Say You No Prayers: Selected Stories, 1984

A Bolt of White Cloth, 1984

The Happiness of Others, 1991

Who Do You Love?, 1992

Muffins, 1995

Oh! Twenty-seven Stories, 1997

Painting the Dog: The Best Stories of Leon Rooke, 2001

Long Fiction:

Vault, a Story in Three Parts: Conjugal Precepts, Dinner with the Swardians, and Break and Enter, 1973

Fat Woman, 1980

The Magician in Love, 1981

Shakespeare’s Dog, 1983

How I Saved the Province, 1989

A Good Baby, 1989

Who Goes There, 1998

The Fall of Gravity, 2000


Lady Physhie’s Café, pr. 1960

Krokodile, pb. 1973

Sword Play, pr. 1973

Ms. America, pr. 1974

Of Ice and Men, pr. 1985

Shakespeare’s Dog, pr. 1985 (adaptation of his novel)

The Good Baby, pr. 1987

Evening Meeting of the Club of Suicide, pr. 1991


Writer’s Path: An Introduction to Short Fiction, 1998 (with Constance Rooke)


Leon Rooke is considered one of Canada’s most innovative and most influential writers. He was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, a rural area whose natives, though largely uneducated, had a gift for narrative. Their colorful language and the cadences of their sentences would still be reflected in Rooke’s prose, even after he had spent decades in Canada.{$I[A]Rooke, Leon}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Rooke, Leon}{$I[tim]1934;Rooke, Leon}

Rooke had not intended to go to college, much less become a writer, until his high school graduation day, when a teacher observed that he came from too poor a family ever to amount to much. Rooke promptly enrolled at Mars Hill College. Two years later, he transferred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill for undergraduate and later for graduate studies, interrupted briefly from 1958 to 1960, when he served with an Army infantry unit in Alaska.

Rooke was already establishing his reputation as a gifted short-story writer. One of his stories appeared in the anthology Prize Stories 1965: The O. Henry Awards (1965), and in 1968, his first collection, Last One Home Sleeps in the Yellow Bed, was published by the Louisiana State University Press. He was also gaining experience in teaching and in editing. From 1965 to 1966, he was writer in residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, and from 1967 to 1969, he edited the newspaper Anvil in Durham, North Carolina.

On May 25, 1969, he married Constance Raymond, a doctoral candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill. They had one son, Jonathan Blue. Constance Rooke accepted a position as a lecturer at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and in 1969 the Rookes moved to Victoria. She remained at the university after receiving her Ph.D. in 1973, rising steadily through the professorial ranks, while Leon devoted his time to writing, editing, and occasionally taking one-year appointments as a writer-in-residence, almost entirely at Canadian universities. Eventually he would become a Canadian citizen.

Over the years, Leon Rooke turned out hundreds of short stories, each of them unique. From the beginning, he experimented with form; Rooke is credited with influencing dozens of young Canadian writers to abandon conventional structures in favor of new approaches to narrative. Critics also noted that Rooke wrote in dozens of different voices, using a wide range of languages, and thus revealed his characters from within. When he began experimenting with various postmodern techniques, as critics noted when the collection Cry Evil appeared in 1980, his works became even more unusual, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to the bafflement of his readers.

The settings of Rooke’s works are just as varied as his voices and his narrative techniques. Among his novels, for example, Fat Woman and A Good Baby are set in the Appalachian South; Shakespeare’s Dog, which won the 1984 Governor-General’s Award, takes place in Elizabethan England; the satirical novel How I Saved the Province has a Canadian setting; and The Fall of Gravity meanders through Michigan, Minnesota, and points west.

When he received the W. O. Mitchell Literary Prize in 2002, Rooke was commended both for his publications and for his mentoring of less established writers by critiquing their works, by including their stories in his anthologies, or by having them appear at literary festivals. He founded such a festival at Eden Mills, Ontario, after moving there in 1989.

BibliographyBauer, Douglas. “What Would We Do Without Evil?” The New York Times Book Review 140 (September 30, 1990): 12. Compares Rooke’s handling of pure evil in A Good Baby to Flannery O’Connor’s views, revealed in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” A thoughtful review.Bemrose, John. “A Canine’s Search for Poetic Justice.” Maclean’s Magazine 96, no. 20 (May 16, 1983): 44. Calls the “pseudo-Elizabethan” language in which Shakespeare’s Dog is written a brilliant reinvention. Praises the author’s characterization of Hooker, who combines superhuman wisdom with all the basic instincts of a dog.Charyn, Jerome. “Trotting Around Stratford.” The New York Times Book Review 88 (May 29, 1983): 11, 16. Insists that Shakespeare’s Dog is more than just a funny novel; it succeeds because in it Rooke has again demonstrated his ability to enter another creature and to present the world through its eyes.Gorjup, Branko. “Perseus and the Mirror: Leon Rooke’s Imaginary Worlds.” World Literature Today: A Literary Quarterly of the University of Oklahoma 73, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 269-274. An extensive analysis of Rooke’s work, emphasizing the theme of “divided reality.” Rooke is described as a key figure in the movement to make Canadian literature multicultural rather than nationalistic.
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