Writer and Scholar
Born in Adsamo.
Based in Toronto.
Writing helps me centre and understand myself better. It calms me. It’s a kind of meditation. A way of connecting with or understanding the transcendental. It has a very mystical and spiritual side – Irene Marques.
Irene Marques is a prolific author and scholar based in Toronto, where she arrived in 1990 after leaving her rural village of Adsamo. She has published several books of poetry, novels, and academic work in comparative literature and African studies. Some of her recent work reflects on her personal and family experiences growing up in Portugal’s conservative rural society, the Estado Novo dictatorship and its Colonial Wars, and her life as a newcomer to multicultural Toronto.
Irene Marques was born on May 24, 1969. She was the youngest of ten children raised by small goat and cattle farmers in the rural village of Adsamo, on the Caramulo mountains in central mainland Portugal. Her mother, who came from a single-parent household, carried family trauma that impacted her own parenting. Their hardship was exacerbated when all of Irene’s older brothers went to fight in the Colonial Wars. One sister emigrated to France, where Irene sometimes spent her summers. Although she experienced similar hardship as her older siblings who were raised during the Estado Novo dictatorship, she had more opportunities to study in the public school system created after the 1974 Carnations Revolution. At a young age, Irene discovered her love of literature, often taking a book with her when herding the family’s goats. After completing high school, she enrolled in the Instituto Superior of Social Services in Coimbra, but dropped three months into her social work program and decided to immigrate. The opportunity came to move to Canada under the Live-In Caregiver program, which offered a two-years work visa that could be turned into “permanent resident” status afterward.
In February 1990, at age 20, Irene settled in Richmond Hill, where she lived with and worked for a middle-class Portuguese and Russian family. She continued her bachelor studies in social work at the Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) at night. After five months, her employer allowed Irene to look for other work while keeping her caregiver contract for a year. Irene would later go on to to work in various social services/work fields for 15 years, including at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Oasis Centre des Femmes.
Once in Toronto, Irene became interested in understanding race and social class relations, and the effects of European colonialism in Africa; in large part influenced by her brothers’ war stories in Angola and Guinea-Bissau. She explored those themes by going back to university and doing multiple degrees in French literature, where she studied primarily African authors. After completing her doctoral studies in comparative and French literature, she began teaching literature, creative writing, and African studies in multiple programs and departments at Toronto Metropolitan University, University of Toronto, York University, and Ontario College of Art & Design. In 2007-08, Irene held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has published several journal articles and chapters in edited collections, and the book Transnational Discourses on Class, Gender, and Cultural Identity (2011).
At the same time, Irene pursed her passion for poetry and creative writing in English and Portuguese, leading to the publication of the poetry collections Wearing Glasses of Water (2007), The Perfect Unravelling of the Spirit (2012), and The Circular Incantation: An Exercise in Loss and Findings (2013). She has also published the short story collection Habitando na Metáfora do Tempo: Crónicas Desejadas (2009), and the novels My House is a Mansion (2015), Daria (2021), and Uma casa no Mundo (2021). The latter won the Imprensa Nacional Ferreira de Castro Prize.
Some of Irene’s work reflects on her personal and family experiences growing up in Portugal’s conservative rural society, the Estado Novo dictatorship and its Colonial Wars, and her life as a newcomer to multicultural Toronto — “a place of fabulous, endless peoples.” Overall, her work is multifaceted and multi-genre, with a special fondness for magical realism, and “with a fluidity that knows knowledge and beingness are always ephemeral.” In her own words:
“At its core, and in its multitudinous manifestations, my writing constitutes an array of existential queries, characterized by a universal ethos, where the narrating selves, in their continuous search for fulfillment and understanding, their desire for a world they can call home, never cease to wander, always restless bodies and souls, walking between states, nations, rivers, seas, real or imaginary… But here the imaginary is also very real, or better yet, it is in this imaginary, this symbolical, that a state closer to true fulfilment, where nothing is missing, resides.”
Hora dos Portugueses
Short description: Grandmother’s gold earrings
Place of origin: Portugal
Description: Gold earrings previously owned by Irene’s grandmother, Beatriz. They were gifted to Irene after her grandmother died as a family heirloom and recognition of their close relationship.
Short description: Irene Marques’ novels
Place of origin: Toronto and Lisbon
Description: Paper copies of Irene Marques’ novels Uma Casa no Mundo (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional) and Daria (Toronto: Inanna).