Karen Shenfeld was born and raised in a 1950s Toronto subdivision named for a minor English lord. She is the daughter of Louis Shenfeld, an expert on urban air pollution and Margaret Parker Shenfeld, one of Canada's first female dentists. Karen followed in the academic footsteps of her paternal aunt, attaining an Honours B.A. in English Literature from York University. There, she studied under the tutelage of the fine poet, and scholar of the English Romantics, Robert Casto. She was also inspired by the prophet, Irving Layton.
On her 18th birthday, she received a pair of embroidered, camel-skin slippers, a gift from a friend who had travelled in the Indian province of Rajasthan. Once she slipped them on her bare feet, she was unable to remove them, and she was suddenly struck by a desire for adventure.
Among her many journeys, she has crossed the Sahara Desert from north to south through Algeria, travelled the length of the Congo River in Africa by riverboat, and voyaged through India, from Kashmir to Kerala. It was on the road that she began to pursue her reckless calling of poetry.
She has published two books of poetry with Guernica Editions: The Law of Return (1999), which won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for poetry in 2001, and The Fertile Crescent (2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals and anthologies published in Canada, the United States, South Africa, and Bangladesh. She has given readings at venues across Canada and in the United States, Britain, and South Africa. Her poetry has been read on CBC Radio, and she has been interviewed on air for CKLN's programme, "In Other Words". She has also read her poetry and been interviewed on 39 Dover Street, a short-wave radio programme produced on the Isle of Wight, U.K. She has received arts council grants to support her work. She is currently completing the manuscript for her third book.
Karen Shenfeld has also brought her poetic sensibility to the writing of magazine stories and filmmaking. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival. She lives in Toronto's Little Italy with her husband, mathematician Stephen Watson, and their son.