I was put on this Earth to laugh. And I do it with gusto.”

-—Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway

2022 Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award (Popular Music)

Author (plays, novels, non-fiction), pianist and songwriter

Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s most acclaimed writers and performers. His work shines a light on Indigenous people and culture; his plays (which include the award-winning The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing) are taught and performed around the world. A classically trained pianist, he has lectured and performed across Canada and abroad, and is a highly entertaining and sought-after speaker on topics ranging from music and literature to diversity in the workplace.
 
Tomson Highway was born in 1951 in northern Manitoba, in a tent hastily pitched in a snowbank. He obtained a BMus in piano performance and the equivalent of a BA in English; before turning to composing and writing, he worked as a social worker on First Nations reserves and in urban centres across Canada. He was also involved in creating several Indigenous music and arts festivals, and was artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto for six years.
 
Mr. Highway achieved international recognition in 1986 with his sixth play, the multi-award-winning The Rez Sisters, followed in 1989 by Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, which not only won numerous awards but was the first Canadian play to receive a full production at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. His later plays include Rose and the musicals Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout and The (Post) Mistress.
 
His novel Kiss of the Fur Queen, based on his experiences at residential school, was a Canadian bestseller. He has published three children’s books, all written bilingually in Cree (his mother tongue) and English. His memoir Permanent Astonishment won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
 
He wrote (in Cree) the libretti for two operas, Pimooteewin and Chaakapesh: The Trickster’s Quest. His third CD is scheduled for release in 2022.
 
In life as in his work, Mr. Highway exudes irrepressible delight. “Joy is the very centre of my existence,” he says. “It inspires me, it moves me forward, it makes my spirit dance.”
 
Tomson Highway is an Officer of the Order of Canada. His other awards and honours include three Dora Mavor Moore Awards, two Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Awards, Toronto Arts Award, National Indigenous Achievement Award (now the Indspire Award), and honorary degrees from 11 Canadian universities. In 1998, Maclean’s magazine named him one of the “100 most important people in Canadian history.”