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Earle Birney (1904-1995)

Earle Birney was born in Calgary, when it was still part of the Northwest Territories. His family moved to Banff in 1911 and then to a farm near Creston, B.C. In 1916. Before enrolling in chemistry at the University of British Columbia in 1922, Birney worked as a bank clerk, a farm labourer, and for the national parks commission. An associate editor of the campus newspaper, The Ubyssey, by his second year, he was editor-in-chief by 1925. After receiving his M.A. from the University of Toronto he continued his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. While completing his doctoral coursework at the U. of T. he became a party organizer for the Trotskyist branch of the Canadian Communist Party. He completed his disertation, 'Chaucer's Irony', on a fellowship in England, interviewing Leon Trotsky in Norway on a sidetrip.

Birney became literary editor of The Canadian Forum between 1938 and 1940 and enlisted for officer training in the Canadian army. His first collection of poetry, David, won the Governor General's Award for 1942. After the war he edited The Canadian Poetry Magazine. While teaching medieval literature at U.B.C. he established Canada's first department of creative writing in a major institution. Now is time (1945) was followed by Strait of Anian (1948). Trial of a city (1952) was originally called The Damnation of Vancouver but Birney's publisher, Ryerson Press, worried that its Presbeterean board members might take offense.