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Margaret Laurence (1926-1987)
Well-known and widely read, Margaret Laurence is one of Canada’s most beloved and esteemed writers. The quality and significance of her work were acknowledged during her lifetime and continue to be recognized today. With a writing style rooted in the conventions of realism and the rhythms of ordinary speech, Laurence was a strong feminist and regional voice. Her most celebrated works, set in the fictional town of Manawaka, helped to establish the Canadian prairie as a literary setting. A key figure during a significant period in Canadian literature, Laurence contributed to Canada’s “literary renaissance” during the 1960s and 1970s. She also made significant contributions to Canadian writing through her efforts to establish the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the Writers’ Union of Canada and through her personal support for many writers from the 1960s to her death.
Laurence was born in 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba. An avid reader from childhood, she expressed a desire to write from an early age. In her teens, she submitted an epic tale entitled “The Land of Our Fathers” to a Winnipeg Free Press competition, in which the name Manawaka appears for the first time. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Winnipeg United College in 1947, she married John Fergus “Jack” Laurence that same year. In 1949, the couple settled in England before moving to British Somaliland and the Gold Coast (Ghana), where John worked as a hydraulic engineer. Laurence began to translate Somali legends and poems, which were published under the title A Tree for Poverty (1954). She said that it was at that moment that she began to write seriously.
In 1952, Laurence gave birth to a daughter and the family moved to the Gold Coast, where she wrote her first novel, This Side Jordan (1960), as well as a collection of short stories, The Tomorrow Tamer (1963). Following the birth of a son in 1955, the family settled in Vancouver. Over the next few years, the author wrote The Christmas Birthday Story (1980), a children’s book, and revised her memoirs of the Somaliland years, published as The Prophet’s Camel Bell in 1963.
Laurence and the children left Vancouver in 1962 to settle in England, where they remained until 1972. Returning to Canada in 1973, she settled in Lakefield, Ontario. In the meantime, she had written The Stone Angel (1964), a novel which set the fictional town of Manawaka firmly in the Manitoba landscape. In this novel, Laurence tells of Hagar’s last voyage toward the recognition of love and liberty. Considered her masterpiece, it was a landmark event for Canadian literature. It also pointed the way for the subsequent works on which Laurence’s reputation would be built:
A Jest of God, (1966), The Fire Dwellers (1969) and The Diviners (1974). Her books depict strong female characters and the conflicts experienced by Canadian women, set against a backdrop of rapid social change. Working within the conventions of realism, she made artistic use of her regional roots, helping to establish the Canadian prairies as a literary setting.
Laurence was appointed writer-in-residence at Massey College in 1968, served as Chancellor of Trent University from 1981 to 1983, and devoted her last years to the promotion of social causes through letters, lectures, essays and fundraising campaigns. Margaret Laurence died in 1987.
Title of the Image: Margaret Laurence, famous Canadian author.
Source of the Image: Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3608258
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