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W.O. Mitchell

Gaby Haas and the Barndance GangBorn in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, author, essayist, playwright, radio and television dramatist and raconteur W.O. Mitchell is known for his quintessential book of Prairie boyhood, Who Has Seen the Wind, published in 1947.

His Alberta connection began in the 1950s when he set up residence in High River, south of Calgary. He would later move to Calgary, which would remain his home until his death in February 1998.

Throughout his career, Mitchell would write for CBC Radio (Jake and the Kid), film (produced and unproduced screenplays for Alien Thunder and Who Has Seen the Wind), serve as a fiction editor for Maclean's Magazine, and publish fiction (Who Has Seen the Wind, The Kite, Jake and the Kid, According to Jake and the Kid, Vanishing Point, Roses Are Difficult Here, For Art's Sake, How I Spent My Summer Holidays, Since Daisy Creek and Ladybug, Ladybug). A collection of performance pieces presented at readings and other dramatic events was released posthumously as An Evening With W.O. Mitchell. Scripts to his plays For Those in Peril on the Sea, The Devil's Instrument, The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon, The Kite, and Back to Beulah were collected and published by Gage Publishing in 1982 as Dramatic W.O. Mitchell.

 Featured Audio

Arts Alberta #124
In this episode of Arts Alberta, broadcast on Oct. 1, 1988,
Tony Dillon Davis talks to Mitchell about his play Back to
Beulah, then being performed at Edmonton's Citadel

Mitchell explains the differences of writing for the stage
and writing novels. He also recalls his early acting
experiences, how that helps him with writing, and the
effect his upbringing in locations as divergent as the
Canadian Prairies and Florida has had on his writing.
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But it would be as a creative writing teacher where Mitchell would have arguably his most sustaining influence, as he plied schools, universities and fine arts schools to show students his free fall method of writing.

Many of these students would have first encountered Mitchell through the pages of Who Has Seen the Wind. But even that novel was given several second lives, first as a movie directed by Allan King in 1977, then in an edition illustrated by painter William Kurelek in 1976, and finally to celebrate the book's 50th anniversary in 1997. In this edition, Macmillan Canada restored more than 7,000 words of text removed from the original when it was edited and published by Little, Brown & Co. in the United States in 1949. An essay appended to this anniversary edition by the author's daughter-in-law and literary scholar Barbara reveals that not even Mitchell himself knew that publishers including McClelland & Stewart, Stewart-Bantam, and Macmillan of Canada had used the text of the American edition in Canada. In 1991, McClelland & Stewart, his final publisher, would release the unexpurgated edition, again with the Kurelek paintings.

Mitchell's oldest son Ormand and Barbara - both of them academics at Trent University - are currently completing the second volume of their biography of the author, due for release in 2003. The first volume, W.O.: The Life of W.O. Mitchell - Beginnings to Who Has Seen the Wind, 1914-1947 was published in 1999.

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