He doesn’t look great in a fedora and he keeps a safe distance from a Stetson but Emil wears many different hats as a writer, whatever the weather. On any given day he might start out wearing a children’s fiction hat, stop to walk his hatless dog, and then return to his desk with a playwright’s hat neatly strapped to his head. A few hours later the strap is untied, the dog is fed, and Emil is back at his hat rack, deciding what to wear next. He might be working on a screenplay, an essay, the lyrics for a musical. Ideas and images are often floating in his head. Hence a hat, to capture them before they drift off.
Whatever the hat, whatever the story, Emil’s workday always begins the same way: he stares at the open sea of a blank page and weeps. How, he wonders, will he possibly fill this vast space with words that count, with language that might last after a page is turned? He feels stuck before he has even started. And then he repeats his daily mantra: “Write.”
And so Emil writes. He writes for the young and once-were-young. He wrote the stage adaptation of Hana’s Suitcase, the beloved Holocaust children’s book by Karen Levine. Other plays for young audiences include Bluenose and Beneath the Banyan Tree. Emil founded Breadbox Theatre in 2005 to introduce early-grade schoolchildren to the joys of live theater with a story that unfolds in a breadbox filled with kitchen-utensil puppets. Several of Emil’s poems have appeared in Chirp magazine and he has also written the story for a children’s ballet performed by Ballet Jorgen. In recent years he has waded into the warm and welcoming waters of children’s fiction. His debut young adult novel, Young Man With Camera, was published in Fall 2015 by Scholastic Canada and Arthur A. Levine Books in the U.S. With two board books by Annick Press in his pocket (A Button Story, A Pebble Story), Emil is writing two picture books that will hatch in 2016 (Scholastic Canada) and 2017 (Groundwood Books).
Emil’s works for older folks include such stage plays as Mourning Dove and his adaptation of Ian Brown’s The Boy in the Moon. His feature-length screenplay, Café Olé, was shot in Montreal, where he was born and raised and that his two daughters now call home. For many years CBC Radio Drama was a second home of sorts: Emil worked as a story editor on Morningside and wrote many radio dramas, including a dozen or so episodes of Afghanada. His personal essays have been anthologized and his works have been translated into Hebrew, Slovak, and Italian. In addition to his mother’s praise, Emil has been recognized with such honours as the 2014 K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Literature, a Canadian Screenwriting Award, a gold medal at the New York International Festival, and as a Governor General’s Award finalist.
Based in Toronto, where he lives with his wife and an untrained dog that ignores him on command, Emil can frequently be found heading east along the 401, towards Montreal and Morin Heights, Quebec.