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Margaret Laurence, Jean Little and My Writing Journey

Jean Little and her sister
Jean Little and her sister who assisted in Jean’s presentation.

This past June I was lucky enough to attend a writers’ conference in downtown Toronto, Ontario. Such a plethora of choice sessions to attend made my two days there very interesting but the best for me was going to hear Jean Little give the Margaret Laurence Lecture which is always entitled “A Writer’s Life”.

I knew this would be interesting as Jean Little’s writing helped send me on my own writing journey. I well remember sitting on my back porch and finishing Listen For the Singing, one of Little’s books I read for a Children’s Literature course I was taking at the time. As I closed the book the tears came and I remember wishing so hard that I could write that well that I couldn’t stop crying. You see, Jean Little is almost blind but has risen to the top of her profession. What an icon she is.

Jean Little4Now the second thing which made me want to attend Little’s lecture was the name of the Canadian author whose name graces the event.  Margaret Laurence. As a young stay-at-home-mother searching the local library for books, I found Laurence’s Jest of God. And my mother lent me her copy of The Fire Dwellers. Both of these books seemed to reach right into my soul and know what I was thinking and feeling. The first is about a single school teacher in the Canadian prairies and her sad struggle to find a life and to recognize who she is. The second deals with her sister suffering through a less than perfect marriage in Vancouver, both sisters shaped by their prairie upbringing with an undertaker father and the down sides of living in a small town. I could relate to all of this even though my own story is nothing like these.

With every new book that Laurence produced, I went further into my own coming of adult age. The woman just seemed to pick topics so current and so poignant that they touched me. Later I was lucky enough to teach The Stone Angel to my senior English classes, and the story of Morag Gunn came to life in The Diviners. Laurence wrote several other novels and many short stories but The Stone Angel is the one for which she is revered even though it was, at one point, removed from school curricula as a result of extremist book banning actions.

It took me a lot of years to find the exact right combination of life circumstances to reach out and become a writer myself but these two women certainly egged me on. When my son asked me if there was anything I wished I had done in my life so far, I said, “Write a novel.” It just popped out. He replied with all the reasons he thought the timing was perfect. “If not now, when?” he asked.

Elaine Cougler’s website: www.elainecougler.com

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