Alistair MacLeod is a CanLit legend, but before he put pen to paper, he wore many other hats. He put himself through university by working in the mines. It was a family business of sorts, but by the time his turn came to go underground, mining had slowed in Cape Breton. So he left the island to work in Ontario, B.C,.and the Northwest Territories.
Dislocation and economic migration - plus the nature of hard, physical work - are all themes that have found their way into Alistair MacLeod's stories. His work pulses with the beating heart of family and blood ties, where tensions around loyalty versus a desire to move forward collide in his characters' lives.
His work is also characterized by its precise, impeccable prose, which prompted Michael Ondaatje, a long time ago, to describe Alistair MacLeod as "one of the great, undiscovered writers of our time". But that was then and this is now, and Alistair's work has been recognized and rewarded and it is read around the world. His distilled vision of Cape Breton, with its specific locale and character, is universally appealing.
Alistair's body of work includes the short story collections The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories. His 1999 novel about Scottish émigrés to Cape Breton, No Great Mischief, won a number of awards including the prestigious 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The novel took thirteen years to write.
Alistair MacLeod is a retired professor at the University of Windsor where he taught literature and creative writing. He spends his summers on Cape Breton writing in a cabin facing "west towards Prince Edward Island" as he says. Shelagh has visited him there and has spoken with him for the radio many times.
Shelagh's most recent conversation with Alistair MacLeod was at the Words in 3D Writer's Festival in Edmonton. We hope you enjoy this extended version.