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Robertson Davies on the writing life

The Story


Robertson Davies doesn't remember a time when he wasn't a writer, nor does he plan to have any such time in the future. "You carry your shop in your head, and unless you lose your wits," he says, "you ought to go on writing as long as you live." In this thoughtful back and forth with fellow University of Toronto professor Ramsey Cook, Davies reflects on the writing life, the complexity of his fellow citizens and the growing sophistication of Canadian readers.

Medium: Television
Program: Impressions
Broadcast Date: July 8, 1973
Guest(s): Robertson Davies
Interviewer: Ramsay Cook
Duration: 26:47

Did You know?


• A lion of Canadian letters for more than 50 years, Robertson Davies was born on Aug. 28, 1913 in Thamesville, Ont. He studied at Queen's University and Oxford before signing on as literary editor of Saturday Night magazine in 1940. Two years later, he took the helm of the Peterborough Examiner, a newspaper owned by his family. From that base, he spent the next two decades writing commentary and fiction for a wide audience. He also became a key figure in Canadian theatre, writing and producing several plays and helping to launch the Stratford Festival.

• In 1962, Davies was appointed a professor of English at the University of Toronto, and a year later he became the first master of Massey College, the university's new graduate college. He held that post until he retired in 1981. During his years at Massey, Davies established an international reputation for his fiction. This stemmed in particular from his second trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy, which includes Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders. But in retirement Davies was as busy as ever, publishing a third trilogy and a number of works of non-fiction. His last novel, The Cunning Man, was published the same year as his sudden death from a heart attack in 1995. He was 82.

• During his lifetime, Davies won the Governor General's Award for fiction, the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour and was awarded honorary degrees from 23 universities around the world. He was invested as a companion of the Order of Canada in 1973.


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