Book Stuff, Writing Life

My Memories of the Literary Triumverate

When I was a teenager, 3 great literary icons were coming into prominence, all of them women writers: Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood.

Of these Margaret Laurence was the oldest, and her writing career was a relatively brief flash. Her best known books were written in one decade, her last novel published when she was only in her early 50’s. That book, The Diviners, was a favourite of mine because the main character wanted to be a writer (much as Emily Of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery had been my favourite at the age of 10).

In the 1980’s, I was working as an accountant and the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League was one of my clients. The chair of the board, Norma Scarborough, was a veteran feminist and a close friend of Margaret Laurence’s. I very much wanted to meet her, and thought of asking if I could be introduced, but by the time I was getting close to working up my courage to do so, Laurence had been diagnosed with lung cancer. (The next year she committed suicide.)

Born a few years after Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro also married young, divorced, and achieved acclaim as a writer in her 40’s. But unlike Laurence, Alice Munro’s career has spanned 40 years. Fairly early in her career, she was reading in Montreal, my home town, and still very nervous when appearing in public. At least that was what I was told by a teacher of mine, who was hosting her. It didn’t occur to me then to even ask if I could meet her.

Margaret Atwood lives right here in Toronto, in fact on the same street as a family friend of ours. Eight years younger than Alice Munro, her first book, Edible Woman, came out in 1969, not long after Munro began publishing in 1968. Of the triumverate, Atwood’s writerly life has been the most blessed: she started young and kept going strong, writing in numerous genres, including poetry and essays as well as different types of fiction. I did meet her once, at TWUC (The Writer’s Union of Canada) but couldn’t think of anything noteworthy to say when she turned around to murmur something to me about the meeting.

It’s strange to think that someone else might be thinking along those lines about me. I’ve met a lot of people, readers and would-be writers, online and off-line at readings and similar events. It’s a challenge to say something meaningful to people I don’t know and have only a couple of minutes with. That’s why I’ve seldom asked other writers to sign their books, and have found it hard to overcome my bashfulness in order to meet them.

Yet I still wish that real contact was possible. And so when I’m the writer that people are there to see, I keep trying to make it meangingful, a real moment between people whose hearts have touched each other through the words on a page. Maybe that’s what we all need to remember, that we are connecting, that we know each other already, not on the surface, but underneath, in the places where stories are made and taken in.

Whatever the form, print or digital, this place is of deep importance. That’s why people line up to get their books signed. It matters: keep writing my friends; keep reading.

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10 thoughts on “My Memories of the Literary Triumverate”

  1. Lovely post! I’ve read all three of those writers, although only half a book of Margaret Laurence’s for the Slaves (it was one of those months, rather like this one, alas!). Margaret Atwood’s fiction is extraordinary. I’m really intrigued by curiosity about writers, because I’m immensely curious about them myself. It’s the link between literature and life that interests me. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately for a new book, and it seems that writers had qutie colorful and often tragic lives up until the middle of the 20th century, after which, the pressures of publishing seem to have forced them to live quietly and sensibly in order to get the work out to the rigid deadlines! I sort of hope that writers still manage to have a rich inner life, even if it doesn’t show so much on the outside (though I’m happy for them to avoid tragedy as much as possible) – I think it makes for better fiction.

  2. … have always loved the writers you are talking about here and so wish I that I will meet you too one of these days, Lilian, perhaps when the new book comes out. If you visit Ottawa, I shall be there. In the meantime there is this lovely site and your thoughtful words.

  3. Litlove, that’s an interesting observation. Maybe things have changed in such a way in the last 60 years that a creative life can co-exist more peacefully with a stable life, or that the sorts of situations that give rise to a rich inner life can be resolved in a way that makes space for that life while allowing for a more stable external life.

    Cate and Beth, it would be wonderful to meet in person and I will let you both know when I’m somewhere in your vicinity. And if either of you come to Toronto, I hope you’ll let me know!

  4. I’ve only met a few authors and each time have been so embarrassed and muttered inane remarks – why is that, we’re all people? Like Litlove I’m so curious about writers, mainly the fact that they do write and I’d like to do that myself – and yet I don’t even try. I feel that I do know you in part even though we will never meet in person.

    Now, I’m going to investigate Margaret Laurence’s books – of those three authors she is the one I’ve never read.

  5. I’ve gone to a number of book signings lately, and have thought about what to say; I personally prefer to keep it simple and say only my name so the author can personalize the book and then thank you for signing it. Or I’ll say something about Twitter. But otherwise I’m too shy to say anything; it can be such an intense moment if it’s a writer I care about a lot. I’m perfectly happy with the chance to smile and look into someone’s eyes.

  6. Hola, quizás os interese saber que tenemos una colección que incluye el relato ‘The Progress of Love’ de Alice Munro en versión original conjuntamente con el relato ‘Death by Landscape’ de Margaret Atwood.

    El formato de esta colección es innovador porque permite leer directamente la obra en inglés sin necesidad de usar el diccionario al integrarse un glosario en cada página.

    Tenéis más info de este relato y de la colección Read&Listen http://bit.ly/nkaASi

    1. And the translation of this (provided by Google translate) is:

      Hello, you maybe interested to know that we have a collection that includes the story “The Progress of Love ‘by Alice Munro original version along with the story” Death by Landscape “by Margaret Atwood.

      The format of this collection is innovative because it allows to directly read the work in English without using the dictionary to integrate a glossary on each page.

      You have more info on this story and collection http://bit.ly/nkaASi Read & Listen

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