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Athabasca University

Susan Musgrave

Vancouver Island resident, Susan Musgrave is best known as a poet, children’s writer and novelist. She has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award four times; has won the Canadian Literary Award for Poetry in 1996; the Vicky Metcalfe Short Story Editors Award in 1996; the People’s Choice Poetry Award from the Prairie Schooner Magazine and was chair of the Writer’s Union of Canada in 1997.

She was born in 1951 in Santa Cruz, California, to Canadian parents who moved back to Victoria, B.C. Growing up a social misfit, Susan Musgrave dropped out of high school after grade 10. Her first book of poetry The Songs of the Sea Witch (1970) was published when she was only 18 years old. This collection introduced themes of death, witches, eroticism, fire and water. Her writing shows great influence from the natural surroundings of the Canadian west coast. Her poem "Talunkun Island" grieves for the loss of the forests of B.C. to the logging industry. Musgrave spends a fair amount of time on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) which she claims are her spiritual home. As a teenager, Musgrave dealt with a drug problem and depression which ended up putting her in a psychiatric ward and soon after being released she took off with an older English Professor to Berkeley, California. She has been somewhat nomadic throughout her life, venturing all over B.C., living in California, Ireland, Panama and Columbia. Her poetry collection Entrance of the celebrant (1972) illustrates the power of the imagination to deal with myth, ritual and mystery. Her book The Impstone (1976) includes 53 Gothic poems which invoke witches, ghosts and animal spirits. In A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury (1979), Musgrave has some powerful love poems among depressing poems of murder, degradation, deformity and lost hope. Her first novel, The Charcol Burners (1981) deals with a horror story of wilderness cults and murder. Her children’s books and journalism have received much positive attention.

Musgrave’s adult life has seen three marriages, all being somewhat unconventional and attractive to the media. Her first husband was a lawyer, whom she left for one of his clients who was accused of attempting to smuggle drugs into Canada. Once the trial had ended and the charges were cleared the couple moved in together and had a child. They lived in Panama and Columbia but their marriage fell apart when previous charges of drug smuggling came up. Her third marriage was to Stephen Reid; a convicted bank robber and author of Jackrabbit Parole (1988). Their marriage was televised and in 1987 Reid was granted parole. The two had a daughter and lived together on Vancouver Island. Stephen was again caught robbing a bank in Victoria, B.C on June 9th, 1999 and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. However, Reid was granted day parole in January of 2008. Musgrave has had writer-in-residence positions at numerous universities within Canada and works with students through the Writers in Electronic Residence Programme. She currently lives near Sidney, B.C. on Vancouver Island but spends a good portion of her time on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). (J. McKay)


1981 – National Magazine Award (Silver)

1991 – R.P. Adams Memorial Prize for Short Fiction

1994 – B.P. Nichol Poetry Chapbook Award

1994 – People’s Choice Poetry Award

1996 – Tilden Canadian Literary Award for Poetry

1996 – Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor’s Award

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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