Celebrating Seniors - Canadian Author Howard Engel

Howard Engel, author of the novels featuring Jewish Detective Benny Cooperman celebrates his 84th birthday today on April 2 2015 (born in 1931).

Raised in St. Catharines, Howard Engel graduated with BA in Humanities from McMaster University in Hamilton in 1955, and soon began freelance reporting for the CBC. He was assigned to Europe in 1960 and covered news from his home bases in Paris, London, Spain and Cyprus. In 1967 Howard Engel became an Executive Producer at the CBC, and it wasn’t until 5 years after the first Cooperman book The Suicide Murders was published (in 1980), that he retired from the CBC.

The fictional city of Grantham stands in for St. Catharines in the Benny Cooperman series, and for folks familiar with the Niagara region & St. Catharines, it’s easily recognizable in the books. So too is the portrayal of Canadian & Jewish culture; Cooperman is a detective that doesn’t carry a gun, something that Americans audiences might find hard to believe. The Benny Cooperman books have been adapted into two CBC TV movies (Cooperman is played by Canadian actor Saul Rubinek), and published in more than 15 languages.

Together with close friend Canadian author Eric Wright, they’ve had a long association with Crime Writers of Canada, and are considered to be among the founding members of that organization which began in 1982.

Howard Engel has had an eventful life since becoming a senior citizen. One morning in 2000, he woke up and couldn’t read the newspaper. He was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke in his sleep, and the resulting lack of ability to read (which persists today) is known as alexia sine agraphia. Thankfully for his fans, it didn’t affect his ability to write and his 2005 Benny Cooperman novel Memory Book, is partially based on his experience (Benny suffers a blow to the head instead of a stroke). The twelfth and most recent Benny Cooperman book East of Suez, was published in 2008.

In 2007 he published the non-fiction The Man Who Forgot How to Read detailing his recovery from the stroke, which includes an afterword by his neurologist Oliver Sacks. Together with Michelle Cohen, his language pathologist, Howard Engel occasionally visits hospitals for presentations on stroke recovery. Below, the CBC interviewed Howard Engel in 2009 and he talked about his stroke, recovery, and writing his book The Man Who Forgot How to Read.

He’s also achieved quite a bit of recognition in his senior years – investiture with the Order of Canada in 2007, receiving a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in 2013, and winning the Crime Writers of Canada’s Inauguaral Grand Master Award in 2014.

Today Howard Engel lives alone in Toronto, having been widowed in 1998 when his 2nd wife, Canadian novelist Janet Hamilton died from brain cancer. He has 3 grown children, son Jacob (born in 1989 to Howard & Janet), and twins William and Charlotte born in 1965, with his first wife, Canadian author Marian Engel (they were married to from 1962-1978). He’s still quite active professionally – his most recent novel, City of  Fallen Angels (about Hollywood in the 1940’s) was published in 2014. And if you’d like to meet him in person, on April 21st 2015 he’s a featured speaker at the ChisCeries Toronto Special Event.

Happy 84th Birthday, Howard Engel!

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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