A PEN By the Book event: ‘Damned Funny: Faith, Fiction and the Hilarity of Hell’

Join us for an evening of humour with authors Randy Boyagoda and John Irving

A free online event on January 20th 7:00-8:00 pm.


John Irving and Randy Boyagoda are novelists who love to make us laugh, even as their fiction critiques serious, sensitive and, for some, even sacred matters. From God, faith and family to politics and sex, nothing seems to be off limits in their work. In this conversation, two literary friends—a believer and a nonbeliever—discuss how humour in fiction can challenge our cherished beliefs.

John Irving

John Irving’s first novel was published in 1968. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. In 1980, Irving won a National Book Award for The World According to Garp. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person. An international writer, his books have been translated into almost forty languages. A Prayer for Owen Meany is his biggest bestseller, worldwide. A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, John Irving lives in Toronto. The Last Chairlift, his fifteenth novel, will be published in 2022.


Randy Boyagoda

Randy Boyagoda is a novelist and professor of English at the University of Toronto, where he also serves as Vice-Dean, Undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts and Science. He was President of PEN Canada from 2015-2017. He is the author of six books, including four novels, and his work has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, and named Globe and Mail Best Book and IMPAC New York Times Editor’s Choice selections. His latest novel, Dante’s Indiana, was published in Fall 2021. Born to Sri Lankan parents who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, he lives in Toronto with his wife and four daughters.

We hope you can join us for this evening of entertainment!


Calgary’s Wordfest partnered with PEN Canada to live-stream this event and has kindly provided a ‘Digital Doggie Bag‘ which includes bonus extras inspired by the conversation this evening. Click here to view.

To watch the recording of the event on YouTube, click here.

Photo credits for John Irving and Randy Boyagoda: Nina Cochran and Derek Shapton, respectively