Morrissey, Donna

Donna Morrissey, novelist, scriptwriter (b at The Beaches, Nfld 13 January 1956). Donna Morrissey was born in The Beaches, an outport community on the northwest coast of NEWFOUNDLAND. She left there when she was 16, settling in St John's, where she received a Bachelor of Social Work and a diploma in Adult Education from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Although she later moved to Halifax, Morrissey's writing continues to explore the Newfoundland outport existence and the events that continue to alter and threaten that way of life.

Donna Morrissey garnered international attention with her first novel, Kit's Law (1999). The book won the Canadian Booksellers' Association Libris Award, Britain's Winifred Holtby Prize, and the American Library Association's Alex Award. The novel focuses on 14-year-old Kit Pitman, who lives with her mother and grandmother in the isolated outport of Haire's Hollow. Morrissey's novel gravitates from light and dark, painting a picture that contains the sustaining love of the Pitman family, the condemnation preached by the antagonistic Reverend Ropson, the communal support of neighbours, and the violence and rage of the murderous village drunk, Shine. Driving the plot are the dark secrets behind Kit's birth and her relationship to Sid Ropson, the boy she loves. This movement from dark secrets to light humour defines much of Morrissey's subsequent work.

Donna Morrissey's second novel, Downhill Chance (2002), won the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize. Returning to the remote outport world, Morrissey sets this story in the pre-Confederation years surrounding WWII. Downhill Chance both challenges and supports the notion of the always-supportive Newfoundland community as the Gale and Osmond families struggle to survive in the meagre years that led to Newfoundland's union with Canada. Again, Morrissey's plot is propelled by the unravelling of shameful secrets and the exposure of psychological wounds. In the same year she published Downhill Chance, Morrissey also converted one of her short stories into a script for the film The Clothesline Patch. The film was nominated for two Geminis in 2002, and won for "Best Short Dramatic Program."

Sylvanus Now (2005) garnered Donna Morrissey a second Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize and was short-listed for a Commonwealth Writers Prize. The novel details the love story of the fisherman Sylvanus and the beautiful Adelaide, who live in a secluded community in 1950s Newfoundland. Complicating their relationship is a strong desire to establish themselves through work in the community and a longing to escape the confining outport world. Sylvanus Now abounds with contradictions: a small town that both supports and stifles, and an ocean that both provides and destroys. It is Donna Morrissey's expert manoeuvring through these extremes that makes her work so compelling.