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Poet and Novelist Susan Musgrave Sparkles in Glendon’s Ondaatje Series

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A funny, quirky poetry reading and informal discussion with poet, novelist and children’s writer Susan Musgrave was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience of Glendon’s Michael Ondaatje Reading Series on November 17.

Musgrave’s long and illustrious writing career has produced seventeen books of poetry, three novels, three books of non-fiction, four children's books and several collections of humorous essays. Some of her poetry titles provide the reader with a sense of her central themes: A Man to Marry; A Man to Bury; Tarts and Muggers; Cocktails at the Mausoleum; The Embalmer's Art; and Forcing the Narcissus, to name just a few. 
Left: Susan Musgrave at the Glendon reading

“Susan is a wild creature and a true poet, someone who has cherished her freedom in the midst of sometimes chaotic circumstances”, said the reading’s host, poet Chris Dewdney, who teaches creative writing at both the Keele and Glendon campuses. “Her biography reads like an adventure story, filled with exotic countries, bandits, drug dealers, courtroom dramas, courtroom seduction and prison romance. In fact, her biography is so extraordinary, that she has sold the film rights to it.”

A prolific author, Musgrave expressed her view that you can’t force inspiration by setting up a rigid framework for writing; yet, at the same time, you have to keep writing for something meaningful to emerge. “I am writing less now than I used to do”, she added, “perhaps I am less obsessed with it because I have other outlets, such as my enjoyment in nature.”

At Glendon, she read from several of her recent books, including You’re In Canada Now...A Memoir of Sorts, published by Thistledown Press in 2006. Her writings reveal her need to push the boundaries, to seek out the outrageous and the irreverent. Yet there is also enormous depth in the ideas she explores and in the emotions she is not afraid to express and examine. Her most recent novel is Cargo of Orchids (Knopf Canada, 2000) and her latest poetry collection is What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme Publishing, 2000).

Right: Poet Chris Dewdney introduces Susan Musgrave

Susan Musgrave is impossible to pigeonhole. “She has been labelled everything from eco-feminist to anti-feminist, from stand-up comedian to poet of doom and gloom, from social and political commentator to wild sea-witch of Canada’s northwest coast”, commented Dewdney.

Musgrave is currently married to Stephen Reid, novelist and former member of the infamous Stopwatch gang. He has been jailed twice for bank robbery and is on day parole at present. They live in British Columbia, dividing their time between Sidney and Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). She teaches poetry at the University of British Columbia’s Optional Residency in Creative Writing MFA Programme.

When asked about her choice of living in Haida Gwaii for more than half of each year, she responded that “…it allows me the time to read and to write. It is a simple life with not too much coming at you, few distractions. It is also a place where nature is beautiful and magical.”

More about Susan Musgrave

Susan Musgrave has received awards in five different genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, children's writing, and for her work as an editor.  She was raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She has published over twenty books and has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award and for the Stephen Leacock Award.  In 1996, she won the CBC/Tilden Canadian Literary Award for Poetry, and the Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor's Award. She was Chair of the Writers' Union of Canada in 1997-98. In the spring of 1999, she and her husband, Stephen Reid, were the subject of the documentary "The Poet and The Bandit," produced for the CBC-TV program Life and Times.

More about the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series

The Michael Ondaatje Reading Series is under the sponsorship of internationally acclaimed writer Michael Ondaatje, who taught English literature for a number of years at Glendon, as well as Glendon’s English Department. The series presents contemporary Canadian writers and poets who read from their recent works and discuss the writing process as they experience it.

Previously featured authors included Michael Winter, Gil Courtemanche, David Adams Richards and Ondaatje himself.

The next author in the Michael Ondaatje Reading Series will be writer, editor and creative writing professor at Ryerson University, Barbara Goudy. Date, time and location of the reading will be announced.

Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on November 19, 2009