Karyn Huenemann, 1984 TFHA Alum Story

Karyn Huenemann

1984 TFHA Alum

Current Job

Freelance Editor and Project Manager, Canada’s Early Women Writers

Karyn’s work as an instructor in early Canadian literature led to her work with Canada’s Early Women Writers database, a free, online source of knowledge about Canadian women writers that would otherwise be lost. Through the existing database, other academics, and the generous, engaged public, they are keeping alive these women’s memories and works, offering the English-speaking world information about Canada and Canadian women’s history.

“Do good work. Live for others. Put your own oxygen mask on first.”

It is Karyn’s belief that we are here on this earth for others.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: did I volunteer because I believe that, or did that belief develop as a result of volunteering? Regardless, the belief is firmly entrenched as the core value by which I live: from the smallest action to the greatest act of humanitarian activism, everything we do is in the service of others, either an individual or society as a whole.”

Education Background

UBC (BA, English Honours, 1987), the University of Toronto (MA English, 1988); and the University of London, Goldsmiths’ College (MLitt, 1996).

Pictured: Karyn with the 2100-page St. Petersburg Diaries of Anna McNeill Whistler that she edited for Dr. Evelyn Harden. It was published in 2023 by SFU Digital Publishing, and is Dr. Harden’s life’s work. Karyn also created an HTML second edition version which is being updated with Evelyn’s changes as she goes through her research getting rid of papers and finding more to add. They are both very proud of it. 

Celebrating Canada Day at the top of Squamish Chief


Karyn is a devoted mother to her neurodivergent daughter and personally suffers from me/cfs (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome). Nonetheless, she volunteers where and when she can and continues to push herself physically.

“When your goal is others’ needs, it is possible to push past your own hardships.[…]” 

A few years ago she joined a friend on a climb to the top of Squamish Chief. Although it was the limit of her ability that day, and was “SCARED OUT OF MY TREE!!!!” she couldn’t miss the opportunity to join him in flying the flag he made atop the massive cliff face that is one of North America’s largest granite monoliths.


What direction did your professional career take, and what has been your greatest achievement(s)?

For a number of years we lived abroad, including 2 years in India while my husband was building a software-maintenance lab in Bangalore. During our time in France, I began freelance writing and editing. When we returned to Vancouver in 2003, I began teaching in the Department of English at SFU as well as retaining a number of editing clients. My editing experience channelled into nursing journals and theses, especially children’s medical ethics and nursing oncology.

My work as an instructor in early Canadian literature led to my position as the project manager of the Canada’s Early Women Writers database, owned by Dr. Carole Gerson. We are an excellent team: she is an acknowledged authority in Canadian literature, and I have the required technical knowledge. The two of us together took her static 1980s data collection and created the current dynamic online entity it is today (granted with great assistance from actual computer coders, and Dr. Susan Brown’s generous CFI grant for the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory, of which CEWW is a seed project). While not humanitarian, per se, it is still something that I am intensely proud of and feel is contributing to our world: it is a free, online source of knowledge about Canadian women writers that would otherwise be lost. Our website (and the associated webpage, that I run) has been accessed by users throughout the English-speaking world, spreading information about Canada and Canadian women’s history. One of the greatest joys we have is when members of the public contact us either with questions about their relatives, or with information about their mother or grandmother who we have listed but know little about, or who we don’t yet know. Through our existing database, other academics, and the generous, engaged public, we are keeping alive these women’s memories and works….

In a little more humanitarian role, during our time in India, I edited the monthly magazine of the Bangalore Overseas Wives Club, which sounds like “ladies who do tea,” but was in fact the wives of businessmen from abroad—both non-resident-Indian and non-Indian women. Our mandate was to raise funds: we did not perform any charitable activities (as outsiders, it was not our places to do so), but raised funds for which local charities would apply. It was a good system, I felt, and we certainly raised a significant amount of money, positioned as we were to reach the more affluent local and transient business population.

On another totally separate note, while in France I had the opportunity to attend the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking, and achieve my niveau bas (basic level) in both cooking and pastry. We had intended to stay longer, and I would have gone on to the intermediate level, but the telecom world changed and we had to return to North America. The part of this that is significant is that the impetus behind my learning to cook so well is how much I love to cook for others. Question 5 below sums it up, but this is an example of one of the ways I can make others happy, or comfortable, or healthy. Cordon Bleu is not necessary for health, of course, but knowledge of home skills such as basic first aid, how to fix things in the house, how to sew, how to make milk into butter, how to survive in the forest… all lead into caring for others… and at the extreme end, how to make a beautiful gourmet meal for friends and family.

Since Terry ran his Marathon of Hope we have seen many new life-saving advances in cancer treatment. Do you have an area of humanitarian work you are passionate about? 

It remains true that cancer research is forefront in our family’s volunteer and charitable considerations. My husband for many years was a ride-captain for Ride2Survive, which was a significant athletic fundraiser for Cancer Research Canada; not being an extremely strong cyclist (400km in one day, over the Pennask and Coquihalla, Kelowna to Delta, is beyond me!), I volunteered for many years, including being one of the 2-person support for a team of 4 riders riding from Calgary through to Kelowna in the days before the final year’s ride (!). My life with a special needs daughter has not let me continue the level of volunteering and community involvement I would have liked (indeed expected of myself), but I tried to instill in my children a sense of their place within community and how much the medical system has done to support our family.

How has the humanitarian area you have worked/volunteered in changed over the years?

I am blown away by the improvement in the survival rate for some forms of cancer, although it makes me wish that other illnesses had such a positive trajectory. That being said, one of the doctors that came to report on his use of Ride2Survive funding—he worked in children’s oncology research—noted how his research turned out to have a direct, measurable impact on Alzheimer’s research, so I’m back to believing that all knowledge is good knowledge, especially when it is shared.