Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life

Winner: $20,000
Sponsored by Marla and David Lehberg

2014 Winner


Susan Musgrave


Presentation Speech

"Susan was born in 1951, in Santa Cruz, California, to Canadian parents, and began earning her reputation as a social misfit by being kicked out of kindergarten for laughing. She later strengthened it when, at 14, she ran away from high school and ended up, briefly, in a mental institution. She says of this period that 'while committed to the psychiatric ward, assigned to Room 0, I met most of the University of Victoria’s English Department,' one of whom, Robin Skelton, told her: 'You’re not mad, you’re a poet.'

Susan’s first book of poems, Songs of the Sea Witch, was published in 1970, and since then she has published 18 more books of poetry; four novels, including The Charcoal Burners, in 1980, for which she was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award, and her most recent novel, Given; three books of nonfiction; and five children’s books, the most recent of which, Love You More, came out earlier this year.

She has been married four times, most recently to author and former bank robber Stephen Reid, with whom she fell in love while editing his memoir, Jackrabbit Parole, while she was Writer-in-Residence at Waterloo University and Stephen was in Millhaven Penitentiary. 'Poetry,' she has said, 'stems from deep grief or from falling in love, two sides of the same coin.'

Susan, Stephen and their daughter, Sophie, now run a guesthouse, Copper Beach House, on Haida Gwaii, where, Susan says, 'I read poetry first thing in the morning, instead of a newspaper.' In 2011, the literary journal Cerise Press said of her that, 'despite turmoils in her life, Susan Musgrave remains one of the most well-loved writers in Canada, devoted to leading a creative and profound life in all respects.'

We can think of no more deserving recipient for this year’s Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life than Susan Musgrave."

-Patricia Aldana

Selected Publications

Love You More (2014)
Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug
Origami Dove
When the World Is Not Our Home: Selected Poems 1985–2000
You're in Canada Now ... Motherfucker: A Memoir of Sorts
Cargo of Orchids
What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970–1985
Things That Keep and Do Not Change
Forcing the Narcissus
Musgrave Landing: Musings on the Writing Life
Great Musgrave
The Charcoal Burners
A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury
The Impstone (1976)
Entrance of the Celebrant
Songs of the Sea-Witch

About the Author

Susan Musgrave was born California and raised on Vancouver Island. A protégée of Robin Skelton, she published a number of poems in The Malahat Review when she was only 16. Her first poetry collection, Songs of the Sea-Witch, was published in 1970, when she was 18. She is the author of 27 books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. She is a three-time nominee for the Governor General’s Literary Awards: for fiction with her first novel, The Charcoal Burners; and twice for poetry with her collections A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury and Origami Dove. Musgrave recently won the B.C. Civil Liberties Association Liberty Award for art and the Spirit Bear Award, which honours writers who make a significant contribution to the poetry of the Pacific Northwest. She teaches at the University of British Columbia in the Optional Residency Creative Writing MFA program and conducts workshops in libraries, prisons, high schools, and psychiatric wards across the country. Musgrave lives on Haida Gwaii.

About the Prize

Matt CohenEstablished by a group of anonymous donors, the Matt Cohen Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer working in either poetry or prose in either French or English. A founding member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, Mr. Cohen was a celebrated and prolific writer who died in 1999 at the age of 56.

The recipient of the 2015 prize will be announced on November 3 at the Writers' Trust Awards.

Gallant_Mavis.jpg “I look upon it as one of the greatest honours of my career, because it perpetuates the writing life of someone who was, I believe, nothing else than a writer.”  Mavis Gallant Winner, 2001 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life


Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Third Deadline

November 11, 2015
For books published between Sept 9 - Dec 31


Woodcock Fund




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