CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006
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 Appended to the biography is a previously unpublished short story entitled “Mrs.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.
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.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.