Margaret Avison:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections

Inventory prepared by Emma Prescott
University of Manitoba
330 Dafoe Library, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2
(August 2009)

Finding aid encoded by Emma Prescott (August 2009)
Finding aid written in English.

Collection Summary

University of Manitoba
330 Dafoe Library, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2

Margaret Avison

Margaret Avison fonds

1983 - 2008

12.7cm of textual records

MSS 64

English, German and Italian

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Biography of Margaret Avison

Margaret Avison was born in Galt, Ontario in 1918, the daughter of a Methodist minister. She moved to Regina with her family in 1920, and then to Calgary a few years later. The Avisons returned to Ontario in about 1930, to Toronto where Avison attended high school, and entered Victoria College, University of Toronto in 1936. When she completed her B.A. in English in 1940, she was already a published poet as her poem “Gatineau” had appeared in the Canadian Poetry Magazine the previous year. Avison had a wide and varied professional career that commenced when she worked as a file clerk at North American Life Insurance (1940-42) and, for a few months, proofreader at Gage Publishing. Avison then worked at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs – Information Service (1943-45) where she edited a publication called “The Nations Have Declared,” about documents issued by the United Nations. After the war she moved on to the University of Toronto to a position in the Registrar’s Office, and then in the Library (1946-1954). In 1951, Avison’s History of Ontario, a textbook for use in high schools was published. She was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Grant in 1956, so she spent 8 months in the United States writing poetry and attending creative writing classes at the universities of Chicago and Indiana. Following this she undertook freelance work editing, indexing, as well as ghostwriting a book entitled A Doctor’s Memoirs. Her first book of poetry, Winter Sun was published in 1960, and won her the Governor-General’s Award. The year 1963 marked a major milestone in Avison’s life. She had drifted from her Methodist religious upbringing since her young adulthood; early in 1963 she converted to the Christian faith. During that same year her father died, so Avison’s mother moved to Toronto where she would live with Avison until a few months before her death in 1985 at the age of 102. Deeply moved by the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Avison undertook the translation of eight poems to The Plough and the Pen: Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, published in 1963. The work was edited by Illona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi and brought recognition to many of the great 20th century Hungarian poets. The following year The Research Compendium was published. This volume consisted of précis, written by Avison, of theses by students in the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto. In 1963 Avison returned to the University of Toronto for graduate work, writing her M.A. thesis on “Byron and the Newspapers” examining how the style of Don Juan reflected the new journalism of Byron’s day. She began doctoral studies in 1964, but never earned her doctorate, as she did not write a thesis. The Dumbfounding, her second book of poetry was published in 1966. From 1966-1968 she taught at Scarborough College, University of Toronto. During this time Avison also volunteered at a Presbyterian mission called Evangel Hall, where she went on to work as a women’s worker until 1973. Avison then spent eight months as writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario, after which she took a position in the CBC Radio Archives. After 1978 she returned to her charitable work, working as a secretary for the Mustard Seed Mission. This year also saw the appearance of her third book of poetry, sunblue, which was the product of her profound religious convictions. In 1986 Avison retired from the Mustard Seed Mission. She received her second Governor-General’s Award in 1990 for No Time, which had been published the previous year. An anthology of her work entitled Margaret Avison: Selected Poems was published in 1991 and contains selections from previous volumes interwoven with new material and ‘adaptations’ of poems by the Hungarian poets Gyula Illyes and Ferenc Juhasz, from the literal translations by Illona Duczynska. In 1994, A Kind of Perseverance was published, consisting of two lectures delivered at the annual Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. The lectures describe the tensions she experienced when trying to live out her Christian values in secular society, specifically within the university setting. A further book of poetry, Not Yet but Still, was published in 1997. In 2002, her book of poetry Concrete and Wild Carrot (2002) published by Brick Books won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. One of the poems from the manuscript of Concrete and Wild Carrot was published in The Presbyterian Record and won a Canadian Church Press Award for 2000. From 2003-2005, The Porcupine's Quill published Always Now: The Collected Poems, Volumes One to Three. In 2006 her book of poetry Momentary Dark published by McLelland & Stewart won the Griffin Poetry Prize. Avison had two books published post-humously: Listening (2009) and I Am Here and Not Not-There, an autobiography (2009) . Apart from her two Governor-General’s awards, Avison’s contribution to Canadian literature has been recognized in the bestowal of honorary degrees from Acadia University (1983), York University.

She died in 2007.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The eighth accrual (A.08-110) consists of correspondence and clippings.

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Restrictions on Access

One folder of letters of recommendation by Margaret Avison for the Order of Canada is restricted from access for twenty five years from the final creation date of 2007.

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Restrictions on Use

a) Open to all; b) Quotations of excerpts allowed but no unpublished poem by, or any item of correspondence to or from, the donor may be published in full; c) All quotations are to provide the source and to convey Margaret Avison's judgement that the piece is unpublishable; d) Any publishing in full or must wait until twenty years after the author's death; e) Use of the collection is on terms of use placed by this Department; f) It is the user's responsibility to abide by all Canadian copyright legislation as amended by Parliament from time to time.

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Custodial History

The eighth accruals (A.08-110) were donated to the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections by Joan Eichner in 2008

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Other Finding Aids

MSS 64 (A.90-11, A.96-23) MSS 64, PC 151, TC 97 (A.01-22, A.02-64, A.03-109, A.07-55, A.07-64).

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Detailed Description of the Collection

Margaret Avison manuscripts and correspondence [ 1983 - 2008 ]

This 2008 accrual (A.08-110) contains 12.7cm of textual records and is mostly correspondence and translations of Verwitterunger and Il cuore che vede.

11 Letters of recommendation by Margaret Avison for the Order of Canada [1998 – 2007]
2 Verwitterunger: Various stages of translation including explanations of meanings and published copy and correspondence of the translators. [2005 – 2007]
3 Arc article correspondence and edited manuscripts of Poets learn from poetry 2004
4 Correspondence regarding Concrete and Wild Carrot production 2002
5 Miscellaneous email correspondence 2003 - 2007
6 Momentary Dark correspondence with McClelland and Stewart including about the title. 2005 - 2006
7 Correspondence with Stephen Scobie and David Kent, copy of essay by Kent, and a memorial essay for Avison’s death by Kent. [1996 – 2008]
8 Correspondence with Branko Gorjup regarding Il cuore che vede Italian translation. 2001 - 2003
9 Doctor of Letters offer, reviews and clippings [1983 – 2006]
10 Correspondence with The Porcupine’s Quill and Stan Dragland 2002 - 2005

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