Raymond Beauchemin

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Raymond Beauchemin was born in western Massachusetts and worked at newspapers in Holyoke, Hartford and Boston after receiving his bachelor of arts in English and journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He moved to Montreal in 1990 to pursue his master’s in English and creative writing from Concordia University. Beauchemin’s first books were anthologies he edited: “32 Degrees,” a collection of master’s theses excerpts from Concordia’s writing program; “The Urban Wanderers Reader,” highlights from the highly successful public reading series he ran in Montreal with his wife, the writer Denise Roig. They also collaborated on the anthology “Future Tense: New English Fiction from Quebec,” published in 1997 by Véhicule Press.

Throughout this time, Beauchemin worked as a copy editor for the Montreal Gazette and became foreign editor there in 1997. In January 2008, he moved to Abu Dhabi where he joined the staff of The National, the first English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates capital, where he worked as deputy and then acting foreign editor. He left the paper in August 2011.

“The novellas in ‘The Emptiest Quarter’ find their inspiration in this place and these years, which overlapped with the Arab Spring and the beginnings of the civil war in Syria,” says Beauchemin. “It was an exciting time to be in Abu Dhabi and particularly to be helping start this newspaper. We were covering stories that had never been covered in the U.A.E. before, participating in a national conversation about what it meant to be Emirati, to be from, or of, the U.A.E.

“Questions of identity – who they are as a nation, as a people, as Arabs, as Sunni Muslims – were central in the discussion taking place at the time. You could see it in the attempts to preserve heritage, but also in the openness to western ideas: the opening of the Louvre and Guggenheim, for instance, the growing number of western universities, such as the Sorbonne and NYU, with Abu Dhabi branches.

“The challenge for the country and those responsible for its rapid growth will be how they honour the rights of 85 per cent of their population, the people doing the actual building and serving: the labourers, nannies, maids, bookkeepers, etc. … the millions from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, who keep the country running and thriving.

“This was my challenge, too, in writing ‘The Emptiest Quarter’: trying to capture so much of what I loved about the country while acknowledging the disturbing inequities.”

Beauchemin’s first novel, “Everything I Own,” was published by Guernica Editions in October 2011. He is finishing two collections of short stories and working on a play, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Trump." He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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