By 1987, when W.O. Mitchell
visited Fort McMurray, the 73-year-old Calgary-based author had published
his seventh book, Since Daisy Creek, and was completing work on his
childhood-mystery novel, Ladybug, Ladybug…
The Weyburn, Sask.-born, Florida-raised, former High River and Edmonton,
Alta. resident was a beloved author from the publication of his first
novel in 1947, Who Has Seen the Wind. The book, which tells the story of a
boy's life on the Saskatchewan prairie, has become a classic of Canadian
literature. His career would carry him through the worlds of literature,
journalism, radio, television, film, musical and dramatic theatre, and an
active life as a raconteur.
Mitchell's writing students owe him perhaps the biggest debt. Using his
freefall approach to creative writing, he taught at all educational levels
from elementary school through to university and fine arts schools. His
students include such award-winning authors as L.R. Wright, Diane
Schoemperlen and Joan Clark, all of whom attended the Banff School of Fine
Arts in 1976.
Mitchell would die in 1998, leaving behind 13 books, whose genres included
novels, essays, short stories, plays, and the performance pieces that
enthralled audiences from coast to coast. There remains a sizable quantity
of uncollected, unpublished material, including radio and television
scripts from Jake and the Kid, unproduced screenplays, journalism and
short stories from all stages of his career.
Speaker of the Week #58
In this episode of Speaker of the Week, broadcast Nov. 20, 1987, W.O.
Mitchell lectures and reads from his work in Fort McMurray. He in also
interviewed by telephone and congratulates CKUA on the occasion of its
Critical and biographical analysis of his work has also been published,
including Magic Lies: The Art of W.O. Mitchell edited by Sheila Latham and
David Latham (1997); and W.O.: The Life of W.O. Mitchell, a two-volume
biography by his son and daughter-in-law Ormond and Barbara (1999 and
2003). The W.O. Mitchell Papers are located in Special Collections at the
University of Calgary.
Two annual literary prizes bear the name of W.O. Mitchell - one honouring
the best book published by a Calgary author, the other recognizing a
Canadian author's literary significance and his or her mentoring of
students. Winners have included Barry Callaghan, Austin Clarke,
Marie-Claire Blais, Audrey Thomas and Leon Rooke.