Books Reviews

A Writer’s Life: The Margaret Laurence Lectures

The cover of the book A Writer's Life: The Margaret Laurence Lectures


For anyone who loves great literature — or aspires to write it — this is an essential collection, full of insight, wisdom, humour, and candour from Canada’s most important and beloved literary figures.

For the past twenty-five years, the Writers’ Trust of Canada‘s annual lecture series, the Margaret Laurence Memorial Lecture, has invited some of Canada’s most prominent authors to discuss the theme of “A Writer’s Life” in front of their peers. Hugh MacLennan, Mavis Gallant, Timothy Findley, W.O. Mitchell, Pierre Berton, P.K. Page, Dorothy Livesay, Alistair MacLeod, and Margaret Atwood, among others, have shared the personal challenges they faced in forging their own paths as writers, at a time when such a career was still unusual in this country. 

Intimate, frank, and revealing in tone, their lectures — collected for the first time in celebration of the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary — provide a unique account of a period when a national writing community was just being formed, and give us unprecedented access to the heroes and heroines of Canadian literature as they share their insights into their work, the profession of writing, the growing canon of our literature, and the cultural history of our country.


I had never given a thought to Canadian writers until I found the website Canadian Poetry Online. Until then, I had viewed poems by them and American writers as one category.
When I posted her poem on my blog, the Canadian poet Karen Shenfield commented on it. She mentioned her colleagues in that comment. Ever since I have tried to learn more about the writers in Canada.
I started reading about writers’ lives this year because I wanted to improve my writing schedule. I did not deliberately choose A Writer’s Life: The Margaret Laurence Lectures. I came to know of this anthology during my search for books about writers.
It contains the experiences and insights of many Canadian writers. While some have stayed strictly on topic, some have veered off tangent. However, every one of them has something relevant to say.
Some have talked a lot about Canadian history. In those parts, my interest flagged and my reading slowed down. However, I liked the book and will read it again in the future.

Background information:

The Writers’ Trust of Canada, founded in 1976 by five notable Canadian authors – Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence, and David Young – supports the writing community in Canada.
Pierre Berton proposed creating a lecture series to have Canadian writers contemplate their lives and share insights about their work and their community. Accordingly, since 1987, the Trust has commissioned a senior Canadian author to deliver a lecture on the topic “A Writer’s Life.”
Named in honour of Margaret Laurence, one of Canada’s most esteemed and beloved authors, the lectures are presented at the Writers’ Union of Canada‘s Annual General Meeting.
This anthology was published by McClelland & Stewart on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the lecture series.

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