Richard B. Wright, author of Clara Callan, dies at 79

Richard B. Wright accepting the Giller Prize in 2001. (Aaron Harris/CP)

Canadian novellist Richard B. Wright, author of Clara Callan, has died at the age of 79, his publisher Simon & Schuster confirmed.

Wright died in the morning on February 7, 2017 after sustaining a fall in his home, according to his literary agent, Dean Cooke.

The St. Catharines, Ont., writer published over 15 books during his illustrious career, including the novels Nightfall, The Age of Longing and In the Middle of a Life.

Iris Tupholme of HarperCollins Canada, who published Wright's work for two decades, described him as "a generous and gracious person, a stylist and a person of great wisdom and empathy for his characters, particularly for women."His best known novel, Clara Callan, which follows two sisters during the Great Depression, won the 2001 Giller Prize (now known as the Scotiabank Giller Prize), the 2001 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the 2002 Trillium Book Award.

The success was a surprise to Wright, who memorably accepted his Giller Prize saying, "If you don't mind, I'll just stand here for a few minutes and hyperventilate."

Clara Callan was inspired by Wright's interest in sibling relationships, particularly sisters. He grew up in a family of five - three brothers and one sister - but found the dynamic between two sisters to be fascinating. "There always seems to be an interesting dynamic between the younger and older one, a rivalry and affection. All the things that go in for, I think, making an interesting story," he told Shelagh Rogers in 2001. "I wanted to try and explore that in the best way I could."

He knew that writing a novel from a female perspective was a risk. "I'm not the first male whose undertaken the task of writing through the voice of a woman and the eyes of a woman, but it is a challenge. I hope I got it right."

In 2015, Wright published a memoir, A Life with Words, documenting his childhood in Midland, Ont., during the Second World War and his attempts to become a writer.

Wright worked as a copywriter for newspapers and radio shows after graduating from Ryerson University in 1959, and later accepted an editor post at Macmillan Canada. His first book, Andrew Tolliver, was a children's book, and was followed up by his first novel, The Weekend Man, in 1970.

In addition to writing, Wright taught English at Ridley College in St. Catharines until his retirement. He became a member of the Order of Canada in 2007.

Wright is survived by two sons and five grandchildren.

With files from the Canadian Press.


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