Margaret Avison fonds

Call Number: Mss 64, Pc 151, Tc 97, El 16 (A.90-11, A.96-23, A.01-22, A.02-64, A.03-109, A.07-55, A.07-64, A.08-44, A.08-110, A.09-54)

Title: Margaret Avison fonds.

Dates: 1926-2009.

Extents: 3.14 m of textual records and other material.

Biographical sketch: Margaret Avison was born in Galt, Ontario in 1918. Her father was a Methodist minister. She moved to Regina with her family in 1920, and then to Calgary a few years later. The Avisons moved to Toronto in 1930, where Avison attended high school. She entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1936. When she completed her B.A. in English in 1940, she was already a published poet; 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 (1940-1942) and, for a few months, proofreader at Gage Publishing. Avison then worked at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, selecting from the R.I.I.A. "Review of the Foreign Press" excerpts for the local press, and editing a pamphlet titled"The Nations Have Declared" about documents issued at the time the United Nations was taking form.

After the Second World War Avison worked in the Registrar's Office at the University of Toronto and then in the Library (1946-1954). In 1951, Avison's History of Ontario, a high school textbook, was published. She was awarded a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Grant in 1956, enabling her to spend eight months in the United States writing poetry and attending creative writing classes at the universities of Chicago and Indiana. She then undertook freelance work editing, indexing, and ghostwriting a book entitled A Doctor's Memoir. Her first book of poetry, Winter Sun, was published in 1960 and won 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 young adulthood, but early in 1963 she reaffirmed her Christian faith. When Avison's father died in 1963, Avison's mother moved in with her. She died in 1985 at the age of 102. Deeply moved by the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Avison translated eight Hungarian poems, which appeared in The Plough and Pen: Writings from Hungary 1930-1956. The work was edited by Illona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi and published in 1963. It brought recognition to many of the great twentieth-century Hungarian poets. The following year The Research Compendium was published. It consisted of precis, written by Avison, and theses of students in the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto. In 1963 Avison returned to the University of Toronto for graduate work. She wrote her M.A. thesis on "Byron and the Newspapers," which examined how the style of Don Juan reflected the news journalism of Byron's day.

Avison began doctoral studies in 1964, but never earned her doctorate because 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, she volunteered as a women's worker for a Presbyterian mission called Evangel Hall. In 1973 Avison spent eight months as writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario, after which she took a position in the CBC Radio Archives. In 1978 she returned to charitable work, working as a secretary for the Mustard Seed Mission. In 1978 her third book of poetry, sunblue, was published. It 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 titled Margaret Avison: Selected Poems was published in 1991. It contained selections from previous volumes interwoven with new material and adaptations of poems by the Hungarian poets Gyula Illyés and Ferenc Juhász, from the literal translations by Illona Duczynska.

In 1994, A Kind of Perserverance was published, consisting of two lectures delivered at the 1993 Pascal Lecture 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 a university setting. A further book of poetry, Not Yet but Still, was published in 1997. Her book of poetry Concrete and Wild Carrot, which was published in 2002 by Brick Books, won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize in 2003. One of the poems from the unpubliched manuscript of Concrete and Wild Carrot was published in The Presbyterian Record and won a Canadian Church Press Award in 2000. Between 2003 and 2005 the Porcupine's Quill published Always Now: The Collected Poems, Volumes One to Three. In her later years, Avison published three books, two of them post-humously: Momentary Dark (2006), Listening (2009), and I Am Here and Not Not-There, an autobiography (2009).  In addition to her two Governor-General's awards, Avison's contribution to Canadian literature has been recognized through the bestowal of honorary degrees from Acadia University (1983), York University (1985), and Victoria University (1988). Avison was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1985.  She died in 2007. 

Custodial history: The fonds was donated to University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections in February 1990 after a series of meetings between the author and Dr. Richard E. Bennett, who was Head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections. Margaret Calverley, a graduate student at Victoria College in Toronto, had physical possession of the papers -- with Margaret Avison's consent -- until the final transfer to the University. A second accession, A.96-23, arrived in 1996 and was designated Cultural Property by the National Archives Appraisal Board in 1997. A third accrual, A.01-22, was donated in 2001. A fourth accrual (A.03-109) was donated by Margaret Avison in the fall of 2003.  The fifth and sixth accruals (A.07-55 and A.07-64) were donated by Joan Eichner in 2007.  The seventh and eighth accruals (A.08-44 and A.08-110) were donated to University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections by Joan Eichner in 2008 whilst the ninth (A.09-54) was donated by her in 2009.

Scope and content: The initial collection consists of several hundred unpublished poems written by Margaret Avison between 1935 and the late 1970s. The second accession, received in 1996, consists of correspondence from various literary associates between the 1950s and the mid-1990s. In several instances other writers and poets send samples of their work for Avison's comments. There is a lengthy correspondence between Avison and the American poet Fredrick Bock. The Collection includes two theses about the works of Margaret Avison and several of her unpublished essays and poems.

The third accrual consists of photographs, audiotapes, and material relating to Avison’s work such as worksheets, manuscripts, published copies, and reviews. It also includes correspondence from the 1980s to 2001, material relating to the honours and awards that she had received, and lectures and readings. This accrual contains Avison’s Bible study notes created between 1967 and 2001. The accrual also includes articles written between 1987-2001, drafts of poems and correspondence.

The fourth accrual (A.02-64, A.03-109) consists of Avison's curriculum vitae, correspondence, draft poetry and publications, 29 photographs dating 1921-2003 and six audio cassettes dating 1987-2003.

The fifth accrual (A.07-55) consists of textual records dating from 1997 to 2006 that mostly relate to recent publications, production, and publicity of Margaret Avison's work.  The sixth accrual (A.07-64) consists of Margaret Avison's correspondence arranged alphabetically, book reviews, her manuscripts Momentary Dark and Concrete and Wild Carrot, a photograph collection and a tape collection. The photograph collection consists of 42 photographs and the tape collection consists of 5 audio cassettes and 1 compact disc.

The seventh accrual (A.08-44) consists of manuscript copies of later works, some correspondence, press articles written after Margaret Avison’s death, and a photograph.  The eighth accrual (A.08-110) consists of correspondence and clippings.  The ninth (A.09-54) accrual consists of manuscripts of I Am Here and Not Not-There as well as photographs, other textual material, and electronic media.

Restrictions on access: One folder in accession A.07-64 has been restricted.  One folder in accession A.08-110 has been restricted.  Two folders in A.09-54 are restricted.

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.  One folder of medical information is restricted as is access to Avison’s birth certificate.

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 quotation is unpublishable; d) Any publishing in full or in part can not proceed until twenty years after the author's death; e) Use of the collection is governed 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.

Accruals: No further accruals are expected.

Finding aid: Printed finding aids are available in Archives reading room and online finding aids are available at the links below:

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)

MSS 64, PC 151 (A.08-44)

MSS 64 (A.08-110)

MSS 64, PC 151, TC 97, EL 16 (A.09-54).