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Build 2000

Speaking as a friend

Award-winning author Budge Wilson delivers Margaret Laurence Lecture

Having published her first book at age 56, Budge Wilson describes herself as a very late bloomer.

But 21 years and 29 books later, this award-winning author of children's, adolescent and adult fiction has clearly made up for lost time. Ms. Wilson came back to Peterborough, her home of 24 years, to deliver Trent University's annual Margaret Laurence lecture on October 21. But unlike previous lecturers who talked about topics close to Ms. Laurence, such as literature, feminism, ecology, and the peace movement, Ms. Wilson talked about Ms. Laurence herself.

In her lecture, "Margaret: Darkness and Light," Ms. Wilson discussed her close friendship with Ms. Laurence, how it flourished as they shopped for antiques, how they spent hours discussing life, but rarely literature, and how years after Ms. Laurence's death, Ms. Wilson has gained insight into her work as a reflection of who she was.

"I am not a Laurence scholar, I was Margaret's friend and she would want me here," said Ms. Wilson, to the lecture audience.

Ms. Wilson came to Peterborough in 1965 with her husband Alan Wilson, the founding chair of Trent's History Department, and professor and founding chair of Trent's Canadian Studies Program. Then a fitness instructor and freelance photographer, who also dabbled in commercial art, it wasn't until her late forties that Ms. Wilson began writing. Though she had been encouraged to write by one of her high school teachers, to whom she has dedicated her most recent book, Ms. Wilson says that even as a child, she wasn't an avid reader.

"I thought 'I'll be a writer,' what an arrogant thing," said Ms. Wilson. "I think I sort of believed in myself."

What she describes as six years of rejection slips later, Ms. Wilson continued writing and in 1984, published The Best Worst Christmas Present Ever. Seven books and six years later came Ms. Wilson's award-winning collection of short stories, The Leaving. And though Ms. Laurence had read some of Ms. Wilson's short stories, she never saw the groundbreaking book published.

For much of their relationship Ms. Wilson kept her writing career a secret from Ms. Laurence, whom she met in the early seventies. Even once Ms. Laurence learned inadvertently about Ms. Wilson's writing it was rarely the focus of their lengthy conversations.

"Ours was not a literary relationship," said Ms. Wilson. "We talked about everything else but writing, we talked about life."

And though Ms. Wilson had read Ms. Laurence's books, she says she had read them "just as a reader, and not a very perceptive reader.

"I read them when I didn't know how to read... I didn't realize the degree to which they were so marvelous."

In preparation for the Margaret Laurence lecture, Ms. Wilson re-read the Manawaka novels a third time, describing it as "the most stunning reading of them all." Ms. Wilson says she found them to be more complicated than ever before and was stunned by what a magnificent writer Ms. Laurence really was, and how frustrated she was because she could not talk to her about that.

"I longed to discuss with her what I had read... I wanted to thank her for the gift from all of us."

"This year's Margaret Laurence Lecture was truly a most memorable one," says Prof. Julia Harrison, chair, Women's Studies at Trent. "Budge Wilson's reflective, thoughtful, and sensitive discussion of Margaret, the women in her novels, and the friendship these two women shared reminded everyone of why Margaret Laurence remains an important figure in the Canadian cultural landscape and in Trent's history."

Posted November 5, 2004

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