________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer.

Donez Xiques.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2005.
408 pp., cloth, $40.00.
ISBN 1-55002-579-1.

Subject Headings:
Laurence, Margaret, 1926-1987.
Novelists, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Paulette Rothbauer.

**** /4



The Margaret Laurence who emerged from my research is not the middle-aged woman who is shown casually walking to the post office in the National Film Boards’ presentation First Lady of Manawaka, nor is she the woman, whom some people recall, anxiously arriving hours ahead of time for appointments and cautiously waiting for a light to change before crossing a street. I discovered rather the young writer who slept in the back of a Land Rover in the desert plateau of Somalia while accompanying her husband as he directed a project to make water available to the semi-nomadic herdsmen and the camels. Margaret Laurence in her twenties was intrepid and eager for adventure. She endured sandstorms, sudden kharifi winds, and monsoon rains. She sat around campfires under the stunning African night sky, undertook a study of the Koran, learned to drive, and was cool-headed in emergencies. More importantly, Laurence was also a single-handedly dedicated writer, with perseverance and strong determination, who worked assiduously to develop her literary talents (From the “Author's preface,” p. 11).


Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer by Donez Xiques has already been widely reviewed in the Canadian press. Most young people in Canada are still likely to encounter Margaret Laurence in the secondary school curriculum where they may be asked to read The Stone Angel or The Diviners, standards of English literature classes across the country. Xiques’ meticulously researched biography, spanning the first 38 years of Laurence’s life, has much to recommend it. She departs from the mainstream account of Laurence’s life and times that look for a correspondence between her childhood in Winnipeg and the fictional setting of Manawaka found in many of her most famous stories.

     After describing Laurence’s difficult childhood and her life as a student in high school and university, Xiques goes on to provide insight into Laurence’s time spent living in the British Somaliland Protectorate, the Gold Coast, aswell as in England and British Columbia. What makes this book a welcome addition to the biographical accounts that narrate Laurence’s life and times is Xiques’ focused attention on the writer’s apprenticeship to the craft and art of writing itself. Very often she refutes Laurence’s own accounts of her writing successes and disappointments by using archival evidence (often in the form of letters written by Laurence herself or by her colleagues and friends).

     The notion of the writing apprenticeship is where this book may have the most resonance with young people – certainly not all young people, but those interested in pursuing writing careers themselves. Xiques provides a picture of a woman driven to write regardless of her circumstances and despite the sometimes overwhelming tension of being a writer, a mother and a wife, a woman who persevered for nearly 20 years before she felt comfortable calling herself a writer—a writer, moreover, who could rely on her literary talents for a certain livelihood. The portrait is, by turns, fascinating, daunting and ultimately inspiring.

     Xiques has an engaging writing style that should appeal to young adults, although the hundreds of endnotes will put off even the most dutiful of readers – however, these are not to be skipped as there is much enlightening information to be found here. Appended to the biography is a previously unpublished short story entitled “Mrs. Cathcart, In and Out of Purdah” as well as two lesser-known stories, “A Queen in Thebes” and “A Fable – For the Whaling Fleets.” There is an index that provides excellent access to people mentioned throughout the biography, and it is serviceable for general subject access. Eight pages of black and white photographs are inserted in the center of the book, and while these are relevant and of high quality, one always wishes for more.

     Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer by Donez Xiques is highly recommended for public and school library collections that serve young adults.

Highly Recommended.

Paulette Rothbauer is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto where she teaches courses in children's literature and youth services librarianship.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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