EMWF Panel: Women, Interrupted

Thursday August 26, 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. EST (online)

Presenters:  Emily Austin (Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead), Shashi Bhat (The Most Precious Substance on Earth) and Uzma Jalaluddin (Hana Khan Carries On).

Host: Zoe Whittall (The Spectacular)

Life can be a puzzle made up of pieces that don’t fit the way we’d hoped. Family, sexuality, relationships, work, desire, hope, healing, time and circumstance… things can get, well, a little complicated. This panel will explore the world through the eyes of complex female characters who come alive in the pages of four vibrant new works of fiction. Join Zoe Whittall in conversation with Emily Austin, Shashi Bhat and Uzma Jalaluddin as they introduce you to fictional women you won’t soon forget.

This event includes closed captioning.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead
By Emily Austin
Published by Atria Books (Simon and Schuster)

This hilarious and profound debut for fans of Mostly Dead Things and Goodbye, Vitamin, follows a morbidly anxious young woman who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death.

Gilda, a twenty-something, atheist, animal-loving lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. Desperate for relief from her panicky mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic church, and finds herself being greeted by Father Jeff, who assumes she’s there for a job interview. Too embarrassed to correct him, Gilda is abruptly hired to replace the recently deceased receptionist, Grace.

In between trying to memorize the lines to Catholic mass, hiding the fact that she has a new girlfriend, and erecting a dirty dish tower in her crumbling apartment, Gilda strikes up an email correspondence with Grace’s old friend. She can’t bear to ignore the kindly old woman, who has been trying to reach her friend through the church inbox, but she also can’t bring herself to break the bad news. Desperate, she begins impersonating Grace via email. But when the police discover suspicious circumstances surrounding Grace’s death, Gilda may have to finally reveal the truth of her mortifying existence.

A delightful blend of warmth, deadpan humor, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration—and the expiration of those you love—is the only certainty.

Emily R. Austin was born in Ontario, Canada, and received a writing grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts in 2020. She studied English literature and library science at Western University. She currently lives in Ottawa. Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is her first novel.

The Most Precious Substance on Earth
By Shashi Bhat
Published by McClelland & Stewart

A humorous coming-of-age novel and a sharp-edged look at how silence can shape a life, from the winner of the Journey Prize.

“But wait, what happened to the girl?” 
“I don’t know,” I say. I don’t tell him that what will happen to her is what happens to every girl.  

Nina, a bright, hilarious, and sensitive 14-year-old, doesn’t say anything when her best friend begins to pull away, or when her crush on her English teacher intensifies. She doesn’t say anything when her mother tries to match her up with local Halifax Indian boys unfamiliar with her Saved by the Bell references, or when her worried father starts reciting Hindu prayers outside her bedroom door. (“How can your dad be happy when his only daughter is unsettled?”) 

And she won’t speak of the incident in high school that changes the course of her life. 

On her tumultuous path from nineties high school student to present-day high school teacher, Nina will learn difficult truths about existing as a woman in the world. And whether she’s pushing herself to deliver speeches at Toastmasters meetings, struggling through her MFA program, enduring the indignities of online dating, or wrestling with how to best guide her students, she will discover that the past is never far behind her.

Darkly funny, deeply moving, at times unsettling and even shocking, Shashi Bhat’s irresistible novel examines the fraught relationships between those who take and those who have something taken. Rich with wry humour and sharp-edged insight, The Most Precious Substance on Earth is an unforgettable portrait of how silence can shape a life.

Shashi Bhat’s fiction has won the Writers’ Trust / McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and been shortlisted for a National Magazine Award and the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, subTerrain, PRISM international, Best Canadian Stories 2018 and 2019, and The Journey Prize Stories 24 and 30. Her debut novel, The Family Took Shape, was a finalist for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. Shashi holds an MFA in fiction from the Johns Hopkins University. Her most recent novel is The Most Precious Substance on Earth. She lives in New Westminster, B.C., where she is the editor-in-chief of EVENT magazine and teaches creative writing at Douglas College.


Hana Khan Carries On
By Uzma Jalaluddin
Published by HarperAvenue (HarperCollins Canada)

From the author of Ayesha at Last comes a sparkling new rom-com for fans of “You’ve Got Mail,” set in two competing halal restaurants.

Sales are slow at Three Sisters Biryani Poutine, the only halal restaurant in the close-knit Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana waitresses there part time, but what she really wants is to tell stories on the radio. If she can just outshine her fellow intern at the city radio station, she may have a chance at landing a job. In the meantime, Hana pours her thoughts and dreams into a podcast, where she forms a lively relationship with one of her listeners. But soon she’ll need all the support she can get: a new competing restaurant, a more upscale halal place, is about to open in the Golden Crescent, threatening Three Sisters.

When her mysterious aunt and her teenage cousin arrive from India for a surprise visit, they draw Hana into a long-buried family secret. A hate-motivated attack on their neighbourhood complicates the situation further, as does Hana’s growing attraction for Aydin, the young owner of the rival restaurant—who might not be a complete stranger after all.

As life on the Golden Crescent unravels, Hana must learn to use her voice, draw on the strength of her community and decide what her future should be. 

Uzma Jalaluddin is the author of Ayesha at Last and Hana Khan Carries On. A high school English teacher, she is also a Toronto Star columnist and a contributor to the Atlantic. Her first novel was published in the US, the UK, Australia and India and was optioned for film by Amy Pascal and Sony Pictures.


The Spectacular
By Zoe Whittall 
Published by HarperAvenue (HarperCollins Canada)

It’s taboo to regret motherhood. But what would happen if you did? Shifting perspectives and time periods, The Spectacular is a multi-generational story exploring sexuality, gender and the weight of reproductive freedoms, from the author of The Best Kind of People. 

It’s 1997 and Missy’s band has finally hit the big time as they tour across America. At twenty-two years old, Missy gets on stage every night and plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. Missy is the only girl in the band and she’s determined to party just as hard as everyone else, loving and leaving someone in every town. But then a forgotten party favour strands her at the border. 

Forty-something Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal at the yoga centre where she has been living, when she sees her daughter, Missy, for the first time in ten years—on the cover of a music magazine. 

Ruth is eighty-three and planning her return to the Turkish seaside village where she spent her childhood. But when her granddaughter Missy winds up crashing at her house, she decides it’s time that the strong and stubborn women in her family find a way to understand each other again. 

In her new book, by turns sharp and provocative, Zoe Whittall captures three generations of very different women who struggle to build an authentic life in the absence of traditional familial and marital structures. Definitions of family, romance, gender and love will radically change as they seek out lives that are nothing less than spectacular. 

Zoe Whittall is the author of three novels and three volumes of poetry. Her third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and is being adapted as a limited series by director Sarah Polley. Her second novel, Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Award for trans fiction, and her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, won the Dayne Ogilvie Prize. She has worked as a TV writer on the Emmy Award-winning comedy Schitt’s Creek and the Baroness von Sketch Show, for which she won a Canadian Screen Award. She lives in Toronto.

Need the book? Buy from one of our bookselling partners or your local independent bookstore:


Almonte: Mill Street Books, 613-256-9090

Elora: Magic Pebble Books, 226-383-3855

Guelph: The Bookshelf, 519-821-3311 x1

Kingston: Novel Idea, 613-546-9799

Ottawa: Octopus Books, 613-233-2589

Toronto: Another Story Bookshop, 416-462-1104

Uxbridge: Blue Heron Books, 905-852-4282


Calgary: Shelf Life Books, 403-265-1033


Lower Mainland: Black Bond Books, [email protected]

Vancouver: Massy Books, 604-721-4405


Winnipeg: McNally Robinson, 1-800-561-1833


Montreal: Paragraphe Books, 514-845-5811


Saskatoon: McNally Robinson, 1-877-506-7456