The Cool Canadian Writers/Canadian Copywriter
Gwethalyn Graham (1913 - 1965)

Very few Canadians have ever heard of Gwethalyn Graham, yet she wrote the first Canadian book to ever reach number one on the New York Time's Best Sellers List. Her novel Earth and High Heaven is the story of a young woman who falls in love with a Jewish lawyer. Her book was published in 1944 when Gwethalyn was only thirty one by Jonathan Cape in England and the J.P. Lippincott Co. of Philadelphia, the novel not only reached number one, ahead of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, but stayed on the list for 37 weeks, eventually selling over 1.5 million copies. Over the years it was translated into 18 languages and Braille, and won Graham her second Governor-General's award. (Her first novel Swiss Sonata won in 1938.) After years of being out of print, Earth and High Heaven was re-published in 2002. Among the many tributes accorded to Gwethalyn, Elspeth Cameron, a Brock University English Professor, called her a feminist before her time and one of the rare women who dared to write about politics both domestically and internationally. Gwethalyn's sister wrote the famous Canadian book "The Trial Of Stephen Truscott" which was the first dissenting note against the infamous judicial wrongs imposed on a fourteen year old Canadian boy accused of murder. This book had an enormous effect on public opinion (particularly the part where a fourteen year old boy was condemmed by a Canadian judge to "hang by the neck until he was dead") and eventually turned the case around in Truscott's favour. Ah, the power of words!

Mordecai Richler (1931 - 2001)

He is one of Canada's most famous writers, perhaps even more famous in death as in life. Although he died in 2001, Richler has received the Order of Canada, been given a nationally- televised tribute in Montreal, become a cartoon character in the television version of Jacob Two-Two And the Hooded Fang and been the subject of a memoir; Mordecai and Me,by Joel Yanofsky. Book clubs are still analyzing his last novel "Barney's Version". Knopf has published a posthumous collection of his sports writing and McClelland & Stewart has reissued his out-of-print first novel, The Acrobats. Richler was a prolific writer, penning at least ten major novels and doing more to export the "Canadian way of looking at life" than perhaps any other novelist (although many in the Canadian Copywriter group hotly debate that Pierre Burton of "The Last Spike" fame was the be-all and end-all Canadian writer.) Whatever the final outcome, Richler was a true creative beacon of light throughout the world although he had a "thorny" personality, was "always loaded for bear" and prickled the nettles of many a politician. He was a literary icon who left a tremendous Canadian legacy.

Pierre Berton (1920 - 2004)

Born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon Territory, Pierre Berton worked in Klondike mining camps during his university years. He spent four years in the army, rising from private to captain/instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston. His newspaper career began in Vancouver. At the ripe old age of 21, he was named the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily. He moved to Toronto in 1947, and at the age of 31 was named managing editor of Maclean's. In 1957 he became a key member of the CBC's public affairs flagship program, Close-Up, and a permanent panelist on Front Page Challenge. He joined The Toronto Star as associate editor and columnist in 1958, leaving in 1962 to commence The Pierre Berton Show, which ran until 1973. Since then, he has appeared as host and writer on My Country, The Great Debate, Heritage Theatre, and The Secret of My Success. Mr. Berton passed away in Toronto on November 30, 2004. Two of Mr. Berton’s popular books, The National Dream (1970) and The Last Spike (1972), told the story of the background and construction of Canada’s first transcontinental railway in a colorful and detailed manner. These two works were later adapted as a television series that provided Canadians with a fascinating insight into the early history of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its fundamental role in the development of our nation. Mr. Berton’s dramatic narrative of The Last Spike earned him a third Governor General’s Award in 1972. The National Dream and The Last Spike chronicled the beginning of the Canadian railway industry unlike any other narratives. As a result of Mr. Berton’s writing, Canadians learned of the important historical role the CPR provided in early national unity and as a driver of economic growth. This significant contribution to the documentation of Canada’s railway history has earned Mr. Berton the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame’s "Annual Award of Recognition" in 2002. In addition to serving as chancellor of Yukon College, receiving numerous honorary degrees and four major literary awards, Mr. Berton was also awarded a Companion of the Order of Canada. Let's face it, ladies and gentlemen, in the literary world, Mr. Berton is the kind of person that we would definitely not call "a dork".

Margaret Atwood (1939 - )

A novelist, poet and critic, Margaret Atwood was born on November 18, 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario. Her family moved to Toronto when she was seven, but spent several months a year in the northern bush of Ontario and Quebec. Margaret Atwood was educated at the University of Toronto, Radcliffe College, and Harvard University. She has lived in Boston, Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal, Berlin, Edinburgh, London, and the south of France. She currently lives in Toronto and is married to Graeme Gibson and they have a daughter named Jess. Atwood's books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

  • The Edible Woman (1972)
  • Surfacing (1972)
  • Lady Oracle (1976)
  • Life Before Man (1979)
  • Bodily Harm (1981)
  • The Handmaid's Tale (1985) received the Governor General's Award
  • Cat's Eye (1988)
  • The Robber Bride (1993)
  • Short Fiction:
  • Dancing Girls (1977)
  • Bluebeard's Egg (1983)
  • Murder in the Dark (1983)
  • Wilderness Tips (1991)
  • Good Bones (1992)
  • Poetry:
  • Selected Poems (1965)
  • The Circle Game (1966) received the Governor General's Award
  • The Animals in that Country (1968)
  • The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970)
  • You Are Happy (1974)
  • Two-Headed Poems (1978)
  • True Stories (1981)
  • Murder in the Dark (1983) also contains short fiction
  • Interlunar (1984)
  • Selected Poems II (1986)
  • Criticism:
  • Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972)
  • Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (1984)
  • Strange things : factions of the malevolent North in Canadian literature (1995)
  • Children's Books:
  • Up in a tree (1978) as Editor:
  • The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (1982)
  • The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories (1995)
  • Further Reading:
  • The Art of Margaret Atwood (1981) edited by A.E. Davidson and C.N. Davidson
  • Violent Duality (1980) by S. Grace
  • Margaret Atwood: Language, Text, System (1983) edited by S. Grace and L. Weir
  • Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms (1988) edited by J. Castro and K. Van Spanckeren
  • Michael Ondaatje (1943 - )

    Michael Ondaatje was born in 1943 in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. 0Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishop's University, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1970 he settled in Toronto. From 1971 to 1988 he taught English Literature at York University and Glendon College in Toronto. He and his wife, novelist and academic Linda Spalding, co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, with Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, and Esta Spalding. His style of fiction, introduced in Coming Through Slaughter (1976) and mastered in The English Patient (1992), is non-linear. He creates a narrative by exploring many interconnected snapshots in great detail. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje's work also encompasses memoir, poetry, and film. His memoir of his Sri Lankan childhood is called Running in the Family (1982). He has published thirteen books of poetry, and won the Governor General's Award for two of them: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems 1973-1978 (1979). The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter have been adapted for the stage and produced in numerous theatrical productions across North America. Ondaatje's three films include a documentary on fellow poet bp nichol, Sons of Captain Poetry, and The Clinton Special: A Film About The Farm Show, which chronicles a collaborative theatre experience led in 1971 by Paul Thompson of Theatre Passe Muraille. In 2002 he published a non-fiction book, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, which won special recognition at the 2003 American Cinema Editors Awards, as well as a Kraszna-Krausz Book Award for best book of the year on the moving image. Ondaatje has, since the 1960s, also been involved with Toronto's influential Coach House Books, supporting the independent small press by working as a poetry editor. He is also known for five other works of fiction: Anil's Ghost — winner of the 2000 Giller Prize, the Prix Médicis, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the 2001 Irish Times International Fiction Prize and Canada's Governor General's Award. The English Patient — winner of the Booker Prize, the Canada Australia Prize, and the Canadian Governor General's Award and later made into a motion picture, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. The English Patient can be considered a sequel to In the Skin of a Lion (1987). In the Skin of a Lion — winner of the 1988 City of Toronto Book Award and finalist for the 1987 Ritz Paris Hemingway Award for best novel of the year in English. It was selected for the first "Canada Reads" edition in 2002. A fictional story about early immigrant settlers in Toronto, In the Skin of a Lion eventually won the competition. Coming Through Slaughter — a fictional story of New Orleans, Louisiana about 1900, very loosely based on the lives of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden and photographer E. J. Bellocq. Winner of the 1976 Books in Canada First Novel Award Divisadero — Winner of the 2007 Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. In 1988 Michael Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) and two years later became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

    Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995)

    William Robertson Davies was born in 1913 in Thamesville, Ontario to a Welsh father and a strict Presbyterian mother. His father immigrated to Canada when his family’s tailoring business failed, but in Canada he was more successful. He became an influential and important newspaper owner and senator. Robertson inherited a love for reading from his parents. He boarded at Lower Canada College in Toronto, then studied at Queen’s University in Kingston before attending Balliol College in Oxford, U.K. His initial passion was for the theatre and he pursued life as an actor in London. In 1940 Davies married Brenda Matthews who he met at Oxford. In the same year the couple returned to Canada where Davies took the position of literary editor of Saturday Night. Robertson Davies worked in his early career to increase the quality and profile of Canadian drama. He started the Dominion Drama Festival and was an early member of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival board. In 1948, he produced his first commercially successful play, Fortune, My Foe. The play involves the questions surrounding Canadian culture and arts, from the point of view of a newly arrived immigrant, a young Canadian and an aging Englishman teacher. He wrote several plays during his career, but after a theatrical disaster in New York in 1960 with Love and Libel, or The Ogre of the Provincial World, Davies chose to instead focus on his novels. Davies' best-known work is The Deptford Trilogy of Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972) and World of Wonders (1975). Setting his novels in semi-rural Ontario, Davies uses biting satire in order to critique what he saw as a narrow-minded and emotionally repressed community. Starting from childhood, the trilogy follows the divergent lives of three boys: Percy Boyd Staunton, Paul Dempster and Dunstan Ramsay. The three boys are connected by one event in their childhood (Percy throws a snowball, meant for Dunstan, but instead causes the premature birth of Paul), and the three novels move between the three characters perspectives and different points in their lives. Robertson Davies received the Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour in 1955, the Lorne Pierce Medal in 1961, the Governor-General’s Award in 1972, as well as 23 honorary degrees. He was the first holder of the Massey Chair position at the University of Toronto in 1961. He co-founded the U of T's graduate center for the Study of Drama in 1966. He died in Orangeville, Ontario in 1995. CBC covered his funeral live, and featured elegies by Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findlay, among many others. His legacy to Canadian literature and culture can be seen the number of novels and works of fiction and non-fiction alike, as well as the number of scholars and intellectuals.

    Stephen Butler Leacock (1869 - 1944)

    Stephen Leacock was a writer and economist who was born in Swanmore, England. His family immigrated to Canada when he was six years old and settled a few miles south of Simcoe, near the town of Sutton, Ontario. After a few years, his father abandoned the family, but Leacock's mother managed to save enough to send her son to Upper Canada College. Soon, Leacock won a scholarship to study at The University of Toronto. In his later years, he taught at the Upper Canada College and McGill University in Montreal. Over the course of his life, he had written sixty books, including works on political science and ecomics and biographies of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. He was best known for his sense of humour in works that included:

  • Literary Lapses (1910)
  • Nonsense Novels (1911)
  • Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912)
  • Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914)
  • Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy (1915)
  • My Remarkable Uncle (1942)
  • Faces of Leacock (1967) by Donald Cameron,
  • Stephen Leacock (1970) by Robertson Davies
  • Stephen Leacock: A Reappraisal (1987) by D. Staines
  • Farley Mowat (1921- )

    Born in Belleville, Ontario on May 12, 1921, Farley Mowat is the son of a librarian. He grew up in Windsor, Ontario and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In 1935 his uncle, an ornithologist, took him on a trip to the Arctic, which gave him a true appreciation of nature, and shaped his later life. Farley was always a vociferous supporter of animal rights and his opinions have often ruffled a few feathers. One of the consequences of his opinions is that he was denied entry into the United States during the Reagan Administration. We consider it the States' loss! His novels include:

  • Lost in the Barrens (1956) won the Governor General's award
  • The Black Joke (1962)
  • The Curse of the Viking Grave (1966) memoirs and non-fiction:
  • People of the Deer (1952)
  • The Dog Who Wouldn't Be (1957)
  • The Desperate People (1959)
  • Coppermine Journey (1958)
  • Ordeal by Ice (1960)
  • Owls in the Family (1961)
  • Never Cry Wolf (1963) filmed in 1983
  • West Viking (1965)
  • The Polar Passion (1967)
  • Canada North (1967)
  • This Rock Within the Sea: A Heritage Lost (1968)
  • My Discovery of Siberia (1970)
  • A Whale for the Killing (1972)
  • Tundra (1973)
  • Canada North Now: The Great Betrayal (1976)
  • And No Birds Sang (1979), about his war experiences
  • Virunga (1987) republished as Woman in the Mist * short fiction:
  • The Snow Walker (1975) * more information
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 - 1942)

    Lucy Maud Montgomery was always called "Maud" by her family and friends, but known publicly as L. M. Montgomery. She was a Canadian author, best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. The first novel was followed by a series of sequels with Anne, an orphaned girl, as the central character. The novels became the basis for the highly acclaimed 1985 CBC television miniseries, Anne of Green Gables and several other television movies and programs, including Road to Avonlea, which ran in Canada and the U.S. from 1990-1996.

    Mazo de la Roche (1879 - 1961)

    Mazo de la Roche was the only child of William Roche, a salesman, and Alberta (Lundy) Roche. She was a lonely child and the family moved frequently during her childhood due to the ill health of her mother and her father's many jobs. She became an avid reader and developed her own fictional world that she called "The Play" in which she created imaginary scenes and characters. She wrote her first short story at the age of nine. Over the course of her life, however, her writing got better and her books eventually became best-sellers. She wrote 16 novels in the series known as the Jalna series or the Whiteoak Chronicles. The series tells the story of one hundred years of the Whiteoak family from 1854 to 1954. The novels were not written in sequential order, however, and each can be read as an independent story. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences in the experiences of the Whiteoak family and de la Roche's. While the lives and successes of the Whiteoaks rise and fall, there remained for them the steadiness of the family manor, known as Jalna. De la Roche's family endured the illness of her mother, the perpetual job searches of her father, and the adoption of her orphaned cousin while being moved 17 times. Her family did work a farm for a few years for a wealthy man who owned the farm for a hobby. Several critics believe that Finch from Finch's Fortune (1932) is a reflection of de la Roche herself. The names of many of the characters were taken from gravestones in a cemetery in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. The Jalna series has sold more than eleven million copies in 193 English and 92 foreign editions. In 1935, the film Jalna, based on the novel, was released by RKO Radio Pictures and, in 1972, a CBC television series was produced based on the series.