A Franco-Ontarian who lets her background shine

michele Vinet

Author, teacher, stage actress, theatre addict and uOttawa graduate, Michèle Vinet has won the most prestigious of Franco-Ontarian literary awards. 

“From my childhood to the final years of my teaching career, I’d promised myself that one day I’d write,” says Michèle, who, for years, had to put aside this dream to focus on her studies and work. 

She first was interested in French literature and then in teaching French as a second language. Thanks to her outstanding professors at uOttawa — such as René Dionne, André Fortier and Patrick Imbert — Michèle was able to discover the greatest French writings, by Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, Dumas and Beauvoir. 

Evolution of her writing 

Michèle’s love for writing goes back to her childhood, specifically to when she was sick. To help her pass the time, her parents brought her all sorts of books, including one about the adventures of the tortoise “Patrovite.” The play on words with the tortoise’s name (which means “not too fast”) made her want to write as well.   

“It was magic for me,” she recalls with wonder. “I also wanted to make up stories and invent words!” 

  Her passion for language led her to the classroom, where she taught for many years. “You can take the teacher out of the school but you can’t take the school out of the teacher!” Michèle says. Her teaching career led her to the U.S., to South Carolina, during the turbulent civil rights era, before bringing her back to Canada. 

Towards the end of her teaching career, after years to telling herself “One day I’ll write,” Michèle decided that it was time to take the plunge. Since starting out as a writer, her greatest motivator has always been her mother tongue.  

“During my childhood, there was very little literature written in French in Ontario,” she says.  

It took a 10-year wait for her to show her manuscript to a professor friend at the University of Ottawa, who convinced her to publish it. Despite her fears, Michèle took on the pseudonym Orlando and in 2007, her first novel, Parce que chanter c’est trop dur, came out. 

Five books later... 

Michèle has published five books, including an English-language poetry volume and four novels in French (published by Prise de parole and L’Interligne), which have earned her nine nominations and four literary awards: a Trillium award (Ontario), the Émile Ollivier award (Conseil supérieur de la langue française, Quebec), Le Droit’s literary award (Ottawa) and an Ottawa Book Award (2022).   She was also the guest of honour at the Salon du livre de l’Outaouais in 2021. 

An ongoing passion 

Now retired, Michèle is still guided by her passion and creativity. She leads creative writing workshops for the public and at the Ottawa Public Library, as well as being active in schools, universities, community centres, the correctional system, the mental health system and Amnesty International. 

Her advice for young writers? “Read, read, read and read some more. You have to nourish yourself to write.”