Margaret Laurence


Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer is an engaging narrative that contains new and important findings about Laurence’s life and career. This biography reveals the challenges, successes, and failures of the long apprenticeship that preceded the publication of the The Stone Angel, Laurence’s first commercially successful novel.

Donez Xiques demonstrates the importance of Margaret Laurence’s early work as a journalist in her development as a writer and covers her return to Canada from Africa in the late 1950s. She details the significance of Laurence’s "Vancouver years" as well as the challenges of her year in London prior to settling at Elm Cottage in Buckinghamshire, when Laurence stood on the verge of success.

The Margaret Laurence known to most people is a public figure of the 1960s and 1970s; matriarchal, matronly, and accomplished. The story of her early years in the harsh setting of the Canadian Prairies during the 1930s - years of drought and the Great Depression - and of her African years has never before been chronicled with the thoroughness and vividness that Xiques provides for the reader.

Appended to this powerful new biography is a short story by Margaret Laurence that has never before been published and two other stories that have not been widely available. They indicate the range of her concerns and show a marked departure from her fiction in The Tomorrow-Tamer and Other Stories and A Bird in the House.

Readers will benefit from the extensive research in this full and vibrant portrait of one of the most revered writers of twentieth-century Canadian literature.


Many writers in Canada, including myself, think of Margaret Laurence as the talented writer and generous woman who encouraged, praised, prodded, consoled, and guided us in the earliest years of our apprenticeships. She always insisted that she was only "passing it on" as she expected us to do one day for others. What "it" was that she passed on to us and where "it" had come from are thoroughly and fascinatingly chronicled by Donez Xiques in this exhaustively researched and extremely readable book.

Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer brought Margaret vividly back to me, with all her bravery, generosity, and brilliance, and also her anxieties, conflicts, and guilt. The book is the product of great scholarly devotion - but more importantly, it is a moving and truthful portrait of a young woman's struggle to liberate herself from herself, and to exercise her talent to the limit of its possibilities.

In Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer, a rich and beautifully documented biography, Donez Xiques has done a major service to Laurence and to Canadian literature. A superlative achievement!

Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer is a strong and sensitive portrait of the beloved Margaret Laurence. The author has examined the hardships and joys of this shy, kind, complex woman whom so few people really knew. After you read this book, you will better know and understand the reasons Margaret Laurence became a truly great Canadian author.

For those already interested in Laurence, this work will no doubt prove valuable, and its focus on the under-appreciated African writing will add a great deal to the study of her early work.

(October, 2005)

Xiques does not think of Laurence as the author most Canadians know, the grandmotherly figure of the National Film Board documentaries, who aw-shucks demeanour contrasts with her bold writing. Instead, Xiques first discovered Laurence through her early stabs at fiction in the 1950's. At the time Laurence was a newly married university graduate who followed her husband to the Somaliland Protectorate. There she enjoyed long overland expeditions, slept under African skies and helped bring the first translations of Somali oral literature into English...As Xiques herself points out, this adventurous young woman is a long way removed from the grandmotherly figure that the NFB shows us in Lakefield, Ont., drinking tea in her kitchen or making leisurely trips to the post office.

Winnipeg Free Press (October, 2005)

Margaret Laurence: The Making of a Writer is a densely packed and wonderfully informative account of Laurence's early years... Xiques has brought to her research a resolve that "attention must be paid to every detail" within her power to uncover. Her meticulous method has ushered in a book that expands and satisfies our understanding of "The Making of a Writer" in ways and details that no other of the many Laurence scholars has achieved. We are in her debt.

Books in Canada, November 2005

Backed up with extensive research, Xiques creates a delightful portrait of a shy, vibrant and strong-minded woman destined to be a fine writer. She brilliantly elucidates the many influences in Laurence's apprenticeship, from family to friends, teachers to colleagues. The book also includes a previously unpublished story, "Mrs. Cathcart, In and Out of Purdah" and two lesser-known pieces, "A Fable--For the Whaling Fleets" and "A Queen in Thebes". The accompanying fiction rounds out the already admirable biography, a treat for fans of Margaret Laurence and of Canadian literature.

University of Calgary, December 2005

Xiques' meticulously researched biography, spanning the first 38 years of Laurence's life, has much to recommend it...

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)...

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.

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

CM Magazine, April 14th 2006

About the Author

Donez Xiques

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014

Donez Xiques

Donez Xiques was born in Staten Island, New York, and received her Ph.D. from Fordham University. Her articles have appeared in many journals, including Canadian Literature and Canadian Notes and Queries. She has received Canadian Embassy Faculty Enrichment awards and a Fulbright Fellowship for research in Canada. She divides her time between her homes in Nova Scotia and New Jersey.