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Al Purdy quits his day job

The Story

For years, Al Purdy hustled his poems wherever possible, sometimes earning just $1 a piece. But now it's possible for a Canadian poet to quit his day job. The creation of the Canada Council and the proliferation of magazines has rendered writing into a sustainable livelihood. "You don't make a fortune but you get by and how much money does a man need?" he asks in this CBC Radio interview. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Oct. 2, 1968
Guest(s): Al Purdy
Host: Bill McNeil
Duration: 4:08
Photograph courtesy of D'Arcy Glionna.

Did You know?

• At the time of this interview, Purdy was promoting The New Romans: Candid Canadian Opinions of the U.S. (1968), a collection of essays by prominent Canadian writers including Dennis Lee, Margaret Laurence and Eric Nicol. The book, edited by Purdy, sold approximately 25,000 copies; roughly 25 times more than an average book of poetry. — Reaching for the Beaufort Sea (1993)

• When Purdy retired from his job at the mattress factory and threw his full efforts into poetry, he endured years of difficult poverty. "When I say we were broke we were really broke. I was picking grounder apples and taking them up north for my father-in-law to sell," Purdy told journalist Geoff Heinricks. "We were picking up old iron. The neighbours would give us a road-killed rabbit or something." — in Saturday Night magazine, December 1998.

• While Purdy managed to eke out a comfortable living for himself over the course of his career, he never struck it rich. In a letter to Revenue Canada dated April 10, 1992, Purdy estimated his income as less than $11,000 a year. "At my advanced age (73) it isn't likely that my income will increase," he wrote. "Therefore, will you please delete my name from your listings. A gross income from writing of the above amount seems to place me below the poverty line, whatever that is." — in Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy (2004).

• The Canada Council granted Purdy fellowships in 1960, 1965 and 1966.
• The Canada Council Act was passed on March 28, 1957. The Council's purpose is "to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts, humanities and social sciences." In 2003-04, the Canada Council issued grants, payments and awards totalling $137 million.



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