Sarah Tolmie


Sarah Tolmie

PhD, University of Cambridge
MA, University of Toronto
BA, University of Toronto

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Sarah Tolmie is a Full Professor who was trained as a medievalist at the University of Toronto and Cambridge. She teaches medieval and early modern literature, general British literature and creative writing. Her research interests are in historiography, visionary poetry and embodiment. She has published articles on Middle English and Scots literature, particularly on William Langland’s The Vision of Piers Plowman.

She is also a poet and speculative fiction writer. Her newest work is the short fiction collection Sacraments for the Unfit (Aqueduct, 2023), a series of weird tales written during the pandemic, all of which concern the deep transformations that can happen while staying in place: an out-0f-work angel adjusts to his new situation, a medievalist going blind gets into a strange relationship with the ghost of the codicologist M. R. James, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein begins to send up symbolic objects out of his grave in a last-ditch effort to communicate. Her previous novella All the Horses of Iceland, a far-traveller saga set along the Volga trade route in the ninth century about an Icelander bringing horses home from Mongolia, was named one of the top ten fantasy books of 2022 by The New York Times.  

In 2020, she published three books: the weird short fiction collection Disease, a conspectus of imaginary diseases in which people live with conditions such as Privacy or Involuntary Compassion, suffer various semiotic allergies, or have their fragility manifested by turning into glass; the poetry collection Check, an academic satire; and the novella The Fourth Island, set on a fictional fourth Aran island off the coast of Ireland on which people from diverse historical periods end up after passing through the state of despair. Her most recent full-length novel was with Aqueduct Press in 2019, The Little Animals, an alternate history of science starring Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, the 17th-century Dutch microscopist, and a feral child based on the Goose Girl from the Brothers’ Grimm. Research for this book involved spending five months in the Netherlands, hosted by the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Utrecht, funded by the Canada Council. It earned a Special Citation at the 2020 Philip K Dick Awards.

Her second collection of poems from McGill-Queen’s, The Art of Dying, was a finalist for the 2018 Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry, while her first, the sonnet collection Trio, was shortlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Pat Lowther Award in 2016. Her other works of fiction with Aqueduct Press include the two-novella collection Two Travelers, the linked short story collection NoFood, and the novel The Stone Boatmen, shortlisted for the Crawford Award for best debut novel from the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts in 2015. Her creative work has appeared in Year’s Best Canadian Poetry in EnglishYear’s Best Weird FictionThe New QuarterlyGrainStrange HorizonsOn Spec, The MalahatReview and The Canadian Literary Review. In 2021, she was one of four women poets chosen to represent Canada in the AR poetry installation Fiery Sparks of Light at the Frankfurt Book Fair, along with Canisia Lubrin, Nicole Brossard and Margaret Atwood.

Events, reviews, samples, and media can be found on her author site at

Selected Publications

Sacraments for the Unfit, Aqueduct Press, 2023.

All the Horses of, 2022.

“Four Poems,” Fiery Sparks of Light, (AR) Telefilm Canada, OCAD, Griffin Trust, 2021.

“Langland, Milton and the Weird Trees: Teaching and Learning Through Piers Plowman and Paradise Lost,” Yearbook of Langland Studies 34 (2020): 177-199.

The Fourth Island,, October 2020.

Check, McGill-Queen’s University Press, October 2020.

Disease, Aqueduct Press, August 2020.

“Precor,” Carter V Cooper Prize Anthology 9, Exile Editions, August 2020.

The Art of Dying, poetry collection, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2018.

Two Travelers, novellas, Aqueduct Press, Seattle, 2016.

NoFood, short fiction, Aqueduct Press, Seattle, 2014

The Stone Boatmen, novel, Aqueduct Press, Seattle, 2014.

Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems, chapbook, Baseline Press, London, 2014.

Guest editor, with Randy Harris, of Metaphor and Symbol, special issue on Cognitive Allegory, 2011.

“The Book of the World as I Found It: Langland’s Piers Plowman and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 20.4 (2008).

“Langland, Wittgenstein and the Language Game,” Yearbook of Langland Studies 22 (2008).

"The Professional: Thomas Hoccleve,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 29 (2007): 341-73.

"Sacrilege, Sacrifice and John Barbour’s Bruce,” International Review of Scottish Studies 32 (2007): 7-32.

"Langland, Wittgenstein and the End of Language,” Yearbook of Langland Studies 20 (2006): 115-39.

"The Priue Scilence of Thomas Hoccleve,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 22 (2000): 281-309.

Fellowships & Awards

  • 2020, Special Citation, Philip K Dick Awards, The Little Animals

  • 2020, Shortlist for the Carter V Cooper Prize, “Precor”

  • 2019, Aurora Award for Poem/Song, “Ursula Le Guin in the Underworld”

  • 2019, Rhysling Award for SF Poetry, “Ursula Le Guin in the Underworld”

  • 2015, Canada Council, Mid-Career Writer's Grant for the novel The Little Animals
  • 2014, Ontario Arts Council, In-Progress Grant for  the novel The Little Animals
  • 2014, University of Utrecht, Descartes Centre for the History of Science, Junior Fellowship
  • 2012, Ontario Arts Council In-Progress grant for the sonnet sequence Trio.
  • 2010-12, Lois Claxton/Robert Hardyng Award, The Salvation Suit.
  • 2010-11, SSHRCC Research-Creation Grant, The Salvation Suit, 4A
  • 2009-10, SSHRCC Research-Development Grant, The Salvation Suit, 4A
  • 2008, Grain Prize, Dramatic Monologue
  • 2007, UW Travel Grant

Current Research

I have recently developed an interest in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and saw several autograph manuscripts of it at the British Library during my half-sabbatical in 2022-23. An article on the history of weird fiction linking Piers Plowman and Peake is forthcoming in Yearbook of Langland Studies in 2024. In terms of ongoing projects, I am working on the sequel to my first novel The Stone Boatmen, a long multi-part book likely to take several more years, and working on an experimental novella about the madness of the fifteenth-century poet and bureaucrat Thomas Hoccleve

Areas of Graduate Supervision

  • Middle English literature and historiography
  • Middle Scots literature and historiography
  • Premodern theory of mind and embodiment
  • Creative writing
  • Cognitive poetics