Douglas Coupland, OC, novelist, short-story writer, essayist, visual artist (born 30 December 1961 in Baden-Söllingen, Germany). An Officer of the Order of Canada and member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Douglas Coupland has distinguished himself internationally as a writer, visual artist and graphic designer, and is widely viewed as one of the most original commentators on mass culture of the late 20th and the 21st century.
Early Life, Education and Fiction
Born on a Canadian NATO base, Douglas Coupland grew up in Vancouver, where he attended the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design). A 1988 article for Vancouver Magazine led to the writing of his first book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). Although the term had existed before, Coupland uses Generation X to describe the generation born in the late 1950s and the 1960s. The group is represented in the novel by Claire, Andy and Dag, a trio resigned to a bleak future featuring lower expectations of material wealth than preceding generations. The book was an immediate commercial success, and Coupland became a sometimes reluctant spokesperson for his generation. The use of the term Generation X has since been adopted by the media, though it is generally used to describe those slightly younger than the protagonists of Coupland's novel.
In his second novel, Shampoo Planet (1992), Coupland turns his attention to the next generation, "Global Teens," raised on computers and music videos. He returns to Generation X with his third book, Life after God (1994), a collection of short stories about faithless and hopeless young adults, which incorporates illustrations by the author. His novel Microserfs (1995) follows a group of young computer programmers dissatisfied with their lives in big corporate culture. Reaction to Coupland's work has been mixed. While some laud his finesse with the vernacular of the day, others criticize him for being too limited in focus and for creating caricatures rather than characters.
Several of Coupland's subsequent novels — Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), Miss Wyoming (2000), All Families Are Psychotic (2001), and Eleanor Rigby (2005) — focus more on characters, often in search of identity, humanity and relationships. Coupland, however, continues to revel in and satirize the frenetic, superficial and consumeristic way of life of contemporary North America. The more focused and solemn Hey Nostradamus! (2003) follows the long-term aftermath of a high school massacre, narrated by a female victim, a male survivor and his relatives. Increasingly, Coupland's writing is adapted for, or intended for, other media, utilizing the blended technologies he so often makes the subject of his scrutiny. JPod (2006), which revisits and updates Microserfs'world of corporate technology development, is written in blog format: the text appears as one would read it online. The story "Everything's Gone Green" was written specifically to be made into a feature film of the same name.The Gum Thief (2007) features a novel within a novel, emphasizing the distance between conventional narrative and the fragmented, multimedia world its characters, workers at Staples, inhabit. Generation A (2009), stylistically reminiscent of Generation X, reflects on the importance of storytelling and finding means of connection in a digital, often alienating world. Coupland’s most recent novels are Player One (2010), which was longlisted for the Giller Prize, and Worst. Person. Ever. (2013).
Coupland is also a prolific non-fiction writer. Polaroids from the Dead (1996) combines essays and fictional stories that consider contemporary society's obsession with celebrity death. His popular-culture study Lara's Book: Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider Phenomenon was published in 1998. City of Glass (2000) presents intimate verbal and visual snapshots of Coupland's hometown, Vancouver. His Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004) combine quintessential Canadian images, like stubby beer bottles, curling rinks and Canada geese, with Coupland's pithy commentaries and personal reflections on all things Canadian. In 2005, a film documentary, Souvenir of Canada, was adapted from these works. As a keen observer of the intersections of technology and popular culture, Coupland was a natural choice to author a biography of Marshall McLuhan, published in 2010, which was a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 2011. Also in 2010, Coupland was invited to present the Massey Lectures; his series challenged the boundaries of the expected form, as they were constituted of segments adapted from his novel Player One: What Is to Become of Us (2010), set in the lounge of a Toronto airport during a global disaster.
In addition to his written work, Douglas Coupland is a well-known visual artist whose work has been exhibited across North America and Europe. His interest in breaking down boundaries between media, and between fiction and non-fiction, is evident in School Spirit (2002), a collaboration with French artist Pierre Huyghe. This work is a collage of photos and excerpts from real high school yearbooks, combined with the story of Coupland's fictional character, a student who died and whose ghost continues to haunt the school's halls. Terry (2005) combines Coupland's moving biography of Terry Fox with photographs of the runner and family memorabilia. A Vancouver memorial of Fox designed by Coupland was unveiled in 2011. Coupland has also designed a memorial to the War of 1812 (2008) and Canoe Landing, a downtown Toronto park (in collaboration with architecture firm Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg) that incorporates Coupland's own sculptures, and a national monument to firefighters, unveiled in Ottawa in 2012. In May 2014, the first major survey of Coupland’s work as a visual artist, Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything, opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery and subsequently travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
The range of Coupland’s production is remarkable, including forays into film, television, and fashion. In 2006, the film Everything’s Gone Green was released, a comedy directed by Paul Fox (it won an award for best Canadian feature at the 2006 Vancouver International Film Festival) with a screenplay written by Coupland, his first. The 13-episode television show jPod, based on a novel of the same name and with a teleplay by Coupland, premiered on the CBC in January 2008. A play, September 10 2001, was performed in the UK at the Stratford New Work Festival. In 2010, Coupland collaborated with Roots Canada on a collection of summer streetwear and both leather and non-leather accessories.
Coupland is a widely recognized commentator on literature, art and popular culture in Canada and beyond, whose works have been translated into more than 35 languages. He has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2006, 2010) and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize (2009), and has received honorary degrees from Emily Carr University of Art and Design (2001), Simon Fraser University (2007) and the University of British Columbia (2010). He is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He was made Officer of the Order of Canada in 2013.