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Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)

Gwen MacEwen was born in Toronto and attended schools there and in Winnipeg. Her first published poem appeared in the Canadian Forum when she was seventeen and the following year she dropped out of school to pursue a full-time writing career. In 1962 she married fellow poet Milton Acorn and took up residence in the bohemian enclave of the Toronto islands. The marriage lasted less than two years. Previous to that she had self-published her first two chapbooks of poetry: Selah and The drunken clock (both 1961). She published her first novel, Julian the magician, in 1963, and that same year Contact Press released The rising fire, establishing her reputation, at the age of twenty-two, as a writer of vision and wit. These books were closely followed by A breakfast for barbarians (1966), The shadow maker (1969/Governor General's Award), The armies of the moon (1972), The fire eaters (1976), and The T.E. Lawrence poems (1982). Her second novel, King of Egypt, King of dreams appeared in 1971. It was followed by Noman, an interconnected series of stories and Noman's land (1983), a novel. She also published Magic animals: selected poems old and new (1974), Mermaids and ikons: a Greek summer (1978), The chocolate moose (1979), (1979), The honey drum (1983), Earth-light: selected poetry 1963-1982 (1982), Afterworlds (1987), Dragon sandwiches (1987), and The man with three violins (1986). She was Writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1984-85 and at the University of Toronto in 1986-87.Her tragic death at the age of forty-six from alcoholism-related problems is chronicled in Rosemary Sullivan's excellent biography, Shadow Maker (1998), and is a kind of emotional talisman within the culture of Canada that points directly at the massive sense of neglect most contemporary artists feel in contemporary North America. Barry Callaghan's Exile Editions brought out two volumes of Gwendolyn MacEwen's collected poetry in 1993: The early years (Volume one) and The later years (Volume two).