Jean Margaret Wemyss Laurence
Jean Margaret Wemyss Laurence (1926 - 1987)
C.C., B.A., D.LITT., LL.D. F.R.S.C.
Fourth Chancellor (1981 to 1983)
In the early 1980s, Trent was fortunate to have as its chancellor the late Canadian author Margaret Laurence. Margaret was born in Neepawa, Manitoba in 1926, and was educated at United College (now the University of Winnipeg). She decided early in life to become a writer and began writing professionally in 1943 when she got a summer job as a reporter for the town newspaper. At United College she published her stories and poems in Vox, the college newspaper, and after graduation became a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen. Following her marriage in 1947, she and her husband lived for a number of years in Africa where she wrote A Tree for Poverty, The Prophet's Camel Bell and her first novel, This Side Jordan. This writing was followed by a collection of short stories, The Tomorrow Tamer, and a study of Nigerian fiction and drama, Long Drums and Cannons. She spent five years in Vancouver where she wrote her first children's book, The Christmas Birthday Story, and began to write The Stone Angel, the first in her famous series of novels set in the fictional Manitoba town of Manawaka.
After separating from her husband, she and her two children spent seven years in England where she completed The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1966), The Fire-Dwellers (1969) and A Bird in the House (1970). A Jest of God won Margaret her first Governor General's Award for fiction and was adapted into a movie entitled Rachel, Rachel. While still living in England, she established a summer home on the Otonabee River near Peterborough where she wrote The Diviners, and in 1973 Margaret made Lakefield her permanent residence. She went on to write a book of essays entitled Heart of a Stranger, and continued what she had begun in 1970 with Jason's Quest, three more books for children: The Olden Days Coat, Six Darn Cows and The Christmas Birthday Story (rewritten). She served as "Writer in Residence" at the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario and at Trent.
Margaret Laurence is remembered for her enthusiasm for Trent, her affection for students and the courage of her convictions. She “embodied the values and ideals to which the University itself aspires: humanitarianism, justice, informed criticism, creativity and self-examination”.
The last decade of her life focused on promoting causes she passionately supported -- peace, nuclear disarmament, social justice, literacy, the equality of women and environmental protection. Margaret was a Companion of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and held honorary degrees from more than fourteen universities, including Trent. She was winner of the prestigious Molson Prize, and was two-time winner of the Governor General's Award for fiction. Margaret Laurence died in January 1987. Her memoirs, Dance on the Earth, were published posthumously.
The Annual Margaret Laurence Lecture is held each year at Trent University acknowledging Trent's fourth chancellor’s contributions to literature, feminism, ecology, and the peace movement.