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.