Biography of Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence was one of the most influential Canadian novelists and essayists of the 20th century.

Born in 1926 as Jean Margaret Wemyss in Neepawa, Manitoba (the inspiration for the town of Manawaka in her novels), she was primarily raised by her aunt after her parents died. She attended United College, Winnipeg, graduating in 1947 in Honors English. She began working for the Winnipeg Citizen after graduation. In 1949, she married Jack Laurence, a civil engineer. The following year, they moved to Africa, where they lived until 1957. This experience inspired her short story The Tomorrow-tamer (1963) and her novel This Side Jordan (1960). In 1957, the couple moved to Vancouver, where they lived until 1962 when they separated.

Laurence moved to England with her two children and lived there for 10 years. Most of her most influential books were published in this decade: Prophet’s Camel Bell (1963), The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1966), and The Fire-Dwellers (1969). Beyond the novels and memoir, she published a collection of short stories, A Bird in the House (1970), and Long Drums and Cannons (1968), a critical study of Nigerian writing in English. Her final novel was The Diviners (1974), and her final work was a memoir that she finished before her death, edited by her daughter and published posthumously in 1989. In 1974 she returned to Canada and resided in Lakefield, Ontario until her death by suicide in 1987.

Accolades for Laurence were frequent. She received the Governor-General’s Award for A Jest Of God (1967), Companion of the Order of Canada (1972) and 14 honorary degrees from Canadian universities. She was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto in 1974 and served as chancellor of Trent University from 1980 to 1983.

Study Guides on Works by Margaret Laurence

The Diviners is one of the most autobiographical works of the Canadian writer Margaret Laurence, as well as her last one. It was published in 1974, the same year it won the Governer General's Literary Awards. It has ever since then been considered...

First published in 1966 by Margaret Laurence, a Canadian author, A Jest of God tells of a 34-year-old schoolteacher named Rachel Cameron who lives with her mother.

Rachel feels trapped in the deceit and pettiness of her small town that includes...