Katherine Ashenburg

Katherine Ashenburg describes herself as a lapsed Dickensian. After a childhood spent mostly reading, she earned a Ph.D. in English literature. Her dissertation was about the nature of Christmas in the works of Charles Dickens. It was her first essay in social history—a field she loves and continues to explore. She says she has a ten-year attention span when it comes to jobs: after a decade as an academic, she spent a decade as a radio producer for the CBC and a decade at The Globe and Mail as the arts and books editor, and one of the founding editors of Lives Lived and the Facts and Arguments essay.

For the past 15 years, she has been a full time writer of magazine and newspaper articles for a wide variety of publications, such as The New York Times, The Walrus, and Toronto Life. She has also written three books. The first, Going to Town: Architectural Walking Tours in Southern Ontario, won a history award from the Ontario Historical Society. The second and third, The Mourner’s Dance and The Dirt on Clean, were shortlisted for a number of awards. The Dirt on Clean was published in 12 countries, in 6 languages and now has a new life as a children’s book entitled All the Dirt: A History on Getting Clean (Fall 2016).

Because she was such a keen reader as a child, Katherine is delighted to have written a book for children. She remembers that when she was researching The Mourner’s Dance, a nephew asked her what was the “most gross” mourning custom she had encountered, and when she was writing The Dirt on Clean, kids routinely asked for some disgusting details from the past. From this she decided that children were a natural audience for the grime, sweat, and occasional soap of All the Dirt and that lots of “gross” details would be an inviting way for them to learn some history.

Katherine still reads children’s books, only now she reads them with her grandchildren. She dedicated All the Dirt to them and looks forward to more reading fun with them—maybe even Dickens!

Annick Press books
by Katherine Ashenburg