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Susan Musgrave was born in 1951 in Santa Cruz, 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 almost 30 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.

Award History

Selection Committee Citation

“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.”
— 2014 Matt Cohen Award Commitee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, and Don Oravec)

Works recognized by WT

Cargo of Orchids

The Charcoal Burners

A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury

Origami Dove

What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970–1985

When the World Is Not Our Home: Selected Poems 1985–2000

You’re in Canada Now ... : A Memoir of Sorts