Margaret Laurence(1926-1987); Biography and famous books

Margaret Laurence(1926-1987) was a Canadian novelist and short story writer. She was also one of the founding members of The Writers’ Trust of Canada, a registered charity that provides financial support to Canadian writers. Laurence was born in the prairie town of Neepawa, Manitoba. Her mother died when she was 4, and after her father’s death in 1935 she was brought up by her stepmother (her natural mother’s elder sister). She attended the local high school, at which she began to write stories, and studied at United College, Winnipeg. In 1947 she married John Laurence, a civil engineer, whose work later took them to live in Africa for five years.

She wrote A Tree for Poverty (1954), a translated selection of Somali poetry; The Prophet’s Camel Bell (1963), a memoir of her life in Somaliland. She wrote her first novel, This Side Jordan, set in, and it was published in 1960. Her next works include a collection of stories set in West Africa, The Tomorrow-Tamer (1963); and a critical work on contemporary Nigerian dramatists and novelists, Long Drums and Cannons (1968).

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In 1962 she moved to England with her two children after separating from her husband, and it was at Penn in Buckinghamshire that she began the series of four books based on her home town, renamed Manawaka, for which she is now best known: The Stone Angel (1964); A Jest of God (1966), retitled Now I Lay Me Down for British publication, filmed as Rachel, Rachel (1968), and later reissued under that title; The Fire-Dwellers (1969); and The Diviners (1974). Then her book A Bird in the House (1970), a collection of linked short stories, is also part of the Manawaka sequence.

She wrote books for children which include Jason’s Quest (1970), Six Darn Cows (1979), The Olden Days Coat (1980), and The Christmas Birthday Story (1982). Her book Heart of a Stranger (1976) is a collection of essays. A draft of her memoirs, Dance on the Earth, edited by her daughter, was published in 1989. In 1986, Laurence was diagnosed with lung cancer. She committed suicide at her home on January 5, 1987, by taking a drug overdose, documenting her decision in writing up to the time of her death.

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