Jovette Marchessault

Jovette Marchessault, novelist, playwright, painter, sculptor (born at Montréal 9 Feb 1938, died 30 Dec 2012). This self-taught artist and creator, whose literary and theatrical works have repeatedly won major prizes, has made a unique mark on cultural history in recent decades. Her writings and artistic works constitute a tribute to women of all backgrounds, notably female artists and writers. Supported by a deep and lyrical ancestral voice, her work celebrates words through myths and an indulgence of liberating poetic language.

From a working-class background, Jovette Marchessault worked in a textile factory in her youth, alongside women of all origins. She engaged in various minor occupations before leaving Québec in the late 1950s to travel across the Americas in search of herself and her spiritual roots. The subject of the crossing in the initiatory voyage would thereafter haunt all her writing. Still, it was primarily through painting and sculpture that Jovette Marchessault expressed herself. For about 10 years beginning in 1970, she exhibited frescoes, masks and sculptures of telluric women ("femmes telluriques," based on an old Celtic legend) in some 30 solo exhibitions in Québec as well as in Toronto, New York, Paris and Brussels. At the same time, she undertook the publication of her romantic trilogy Comme une enfant de la terre in 1975. For the first novel, Le Crachat solaire, Jovette Marchessault won the prix France-Québec in 1976. The second volume La Mère des herbes appeared in 1981, and Des cailloux blancs pour les forêts obscures, in 1987.

As of 1979, Jovette Marchessault's voice was heard on stage. That year, at the Théâtre Expérimental des Femmes (TEF), actor Pol Pelletier performed the powerful work Les Vaches de nuit (English translation, Night Cows by Yvonne M. Klein), and Les Faiseuses d'anges at the TEF in 1982 - both dramatic monologues. These works, along with Chronique lesbienne du moyen-âge québécois, were published in Triptyque lesbien by Éditions Pleine Lune in 1980 and resonated deeply among both anglophones and francophones. During the 1980s, the prolific Marchessault had her works performed by major companies, including the THÉÂTRE DU NOUVEAU MONDE with La Saga des poules mouillées (spring, 1981) directed by Michelle ROSSIGNOL and performed by Charlotte Boisjoli, Amulette GARNEAU, Andrée Lachapelle and Monique MERCURE. The play inaugurated a series of staged works by authors Germaine GUÈVREMONT, Laure Conan, Anne HÉBERT and Gabrielle ROY.

La terre est trop courte, Violette Leduc premiered in the fall of 1981 at the TEF and was repeated at the THÉÂTRE D'AUJOURD'HUI in 1992. It presented the novelist Violette Leduc on stage with the writers who crossed her path: Simone de Beauvoir, Clara Malraux, Nathalie Sarraute, Jean Genet and Maurice Sachs. This play appeared in English as The Edge of Earth is Too Near, Violette Leduc, translated by Suzanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. With Alice et Gertrude, Natalie et Renée et ce cher Ernest at L'Atelier Continu in 1984, Jovette Marchessault staged American writers in Paris at the start of the war (1939-45). The following year she paid tribute to Anaïs Nin in Anaïs dans la queue de la comète at the THÉÂTRE DE QUAT'SOUS with Andrée Lachapelle in the title role, a production that received the Journal de Montréal's Grand Prix de théâtre. Marchessault won Sherbrooke's Grand Prix littéraire for Demande de travail sur les nébuleuses (Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui, 1988) and a Governor General's Drama Award for Le Voyage magnifique d'Emily Carr, performed at the same venue in 1992. Presented again in Victoria, The Magnificent Voyage of Emily Carr (translated by Linda Gaboriau) tells the journey of the celebrated painter from Canada's west coast. Jovette Marchessault published Le Lion de Bangor in 1993, and Madame Blavatsky, spirite, in 1998.

The initiator and coordinator of the 1989 exhibition "8 Montréalaises à New York," Jovette Marchessault along with Nicole Brossard also designed the show Célébration (TNM 1979). She co-founded the international publishing house Squawtach Press in 1980, and was a lecturer in the theatre department at the Université du Québec à Montréal. She has worked for Le Devoir, Châtelaine, La Vie en rose, La Nouvelle Barre du Jour, Fireweed and 13 Moon. Jovette Marchessault was named to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec in 1993, and was named an honorary member of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research in 1999.