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1987: Margaret Laurence dies at 60

The Story

On Jan. 5, 1987, after months of coping with advanced lung cancer, Margaret Laurence takes her life. She is only 60. The news and media report that Laurence died of cancer. Only her family and a few close friends know the truth. From the time of her diagnosis in August 1986 to her decision to take her life in December, Laurence had been keeping a journal. In her journal, Laurence reflects on her deteriorating health. The loss of privacy and independence and the prospect of becoming a burden to family and friends are too much for Laurence to bear. She hopes that her decision to end her life will be met with forgiveness and understanding. The facts of Laurence's death are made public in July 1997, with the release of James King's biography, The Life of Margaret Laurence.

Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 9, 1997
Guests: Joan Johnson, James King
Reporter: Hana Gartner
Duration: 4:12

Did You know?

• Margaret Laurence was born Jean Margaret Wemyss on July 18, 1926.

• She and her husband Jack Laurence lived in Africa from 1950 to 1957. Their two children, Jocelyn and David, were born in Africa.

• After separating from her husband in 1962, Laurence moved to England with her two children. Over the next decade she would publish four of her five novels in the Manawaka series.

• The five novels that make up the Manawaka series are The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1966), The Fire-Dwellers (1969), A Bird in the House (1970) and The Diviners (1974).

• Laurence won two Governor General's Awards: First for A Jest of God and the second for The Diviners. Laurence was made Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971.

•  When Laurence was diagnosed with cancer, she wrote the memoir Dance on the Earth. In her own words, Laurence offers rare insights into her writing process, her relationships and her wide-ranging political convictions. The memoir also includes a selection of Laurence's articles, speeches, letters and photographs. Some of the more private and difficult aspects of Laurence's life are explored -- with her family's permission -- in James King's The Life of Margaret Laurence.


• Also on January 5:
• 1839: Gallows are erected in London, Upper Canada, for the province's first hanging, of Hiram Benjamin Lynn of Michigan on Jan. 7.
• 1910: Le club athletique Canadien hockey team - forerunner of the Canadiens - plays its first game in Montreal.
• 1997: Montreal solo sailor Gerry Roufs disappears in the Southern Ocean during the Vendée Globe round-the-world, single-handed, non-stop yacht race. His boat, Groupe LG2, is found on the coast of Chile in July 1997.


Margaret Laurence: Canada's Divine Writer more