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About the Lectures

Each year since 1987, Writers' Trust has commissioned a senior Canadian author to deliver a lecture on the topic of "A Writer's Life." It was Pierre Berton, a co-founder of Writers' Trust, who originally proposed the creation of the Margaret Laurence Lecture series.

The purpose then, as it remains now, is to have Canadian writers look retrospectively at their own lives and share insights into their work, that of their contemporaries, and their communities. Views and perspectives belong to the lecturer and can be thoughtful, reflective, challenging, and even provocative. The lectures aim to give rise to better conversations about the past, present, and future of writing in Canada.

2020 Lecturer

Remembering Lee Maracle (1950-2021)

Lee Maracle was a member of Stó:lō nation who grew up in North Vancouver, BC. Among Canada’s most prolific writers, Maracle published novels, poetry, short story collections, and collaborative anthologies. Her writing is a fusion of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, myth, and memoir that revives traditional Indigenous stories to frame her modern tales. Maracle’s first book, the autobiographical novel Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel is the story of an Indigenous woman growing up within an oppressed minority during the 1960s and 1970s, and her struggle toward political consciousness. Before her passing, Maracle was a teacher and mentor for Aboriginal Students at University of Toronto and a Traditional Teacher at First Nations House.

Lecture Links

Lee Maracle

Stó:lō storyteller Lee Maracle asks important questions on decolonizing literature, the books schools choose to iconize, and why Indigenous women continuously come last in Canada.

Olive Senior

Olive Senior details her upbringing in Jamaica and the influence of the island’s culture and its peoples on her development as a writer, as well as her education and eventual migration to Canada.

Tomson Highway

Tomson Highway details his introduction and appreciation to Canadian literature, the emergence of Indigenous authors during the last 40 years, and the differences between languages, particularly between English and Cree.

John Metcalf

John Metcalf details what makes good writing work and reveals a touching anecdote about a memorable intervention from Margaret Laurence herself.

Jean Little

The late Jean Little on the influential role her father had on her development as a writer, the challenges she faced, and her battle in getting writing for young readers taken seriously.

Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay eschewed an autobiographical approach in his talk, arguing instead that the value of a writer’s life lies in the words they give us, not the life they lead.

Guy Vanderhaeghe

Guy Vanderhaeghe describes how his early life of over achievment circuitously led to a passion for history and literature, and thanks his mother for being his luckiest break.

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Lorna Crozier

Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke, Lorna Crozier frames her lecture as a series of ten letters written to a young poet.

Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand's lecture is an ode to what is written and what is withheld, what is said and what is left unsaid. In "Versos 11," she explores the recursive nature of the left-hand page while recreating past memories using masterfully rhythmic language.

Graeme Gibson

Graeme Gibson recounts his early setbacks and accomplishments as a young writer, and shares details on how the Writers' Union and Writers' Trust of Canada came to be founded.

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Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence was a novelist and a short story writer.

She was also a key figure in the emergence of Canadian literature in the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Neepawa, Manitoba in 1926, she attended United College (now the University of Winnipeg) on scholarship and graduated in 1947 with an honours degree in English. After college she worked as a reporter and wrote book reviews before moving overseas in 1949 with her husband, Jack Fergus Laurence, a civil engineer whose work took the couple to England, British Somaliland (now Somalia), and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). While living abroad, Laurence had two children, Jocelyn and David.

In 1954, she published A Tree for Poverty, her translation of Somali folktales and poetry. That same year, she published her first piece of fiction, the short story "Uncertain Flowering." In 1957, Laurence left Africa for Vancouver, and three years later published her first novel, This Side Jordan, followed in 1963 by a collection of short stories, The Tomorrow-Tamer, and an account of her experiences in Somaliland, The Prophet's Camel Bell. In 1962, she separated from her husband and moved to England, where over the next decade she worked on the Manawaka cycle, five works set in the imagined prairie town of Manawaka: The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1966), The Fire-Dwellers (1969), A Bird in Heaven (1970), and The Diviners (1974). Celebrated for their memorable representation of the lives and struggles of women, these books received international acclaim and remain widely read and studied today.

Returning permanently to Canada in 1974, Laurence lived in Lakefield, Ontario, and continued to write, publishing several works of non-fiction and children's literature.

Margaret Laurence twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, received numerous honorary degrees, and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. Laurence helped to establish the Writers' Union of Canada and Writers' Trust of Canada, and provided personal support and encouragement to many writers during her lifetime.

In 1986, she was diagnosed with lung cancer late in the disease's development. She died on January 5, 1987, and was buried near her childhood home in Neepwa, which is now a museum dedicated to the author.