Alistair MacLeod | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Alistair MacLeod

Alistair MacLeod, OC, short story writer, novelist (born 20 July 1936 in North Battleford, SK; died 20 April 2014 in Windsor, ON).

Alistair MacLeod, OC, short story writer, novelist (born 20 July 1936 in North Battleford, SK; died 20 April 2014 in Windsor, ON). A chronicler of the landscape and people of Cape Breton, Alistair MacLeod is the author of three books of short stories, an acclaimed novel, and an illustrated Christmas story. After living on the prairies, his family moved back to Inverness County, Nova Scotia, when he was 10. He was educated at St. Francis Xavier University (BA and BEd), the University of New Brunswick (MA) and University of Notre Dame (PhD), and taught at the University of Windsor where he edited theUniversity of Windsor Review.

Alistair MacLeod's stories, collected in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986), outline the folkways, socioeconomic realities and relationships of family and community in Cape Breton against the mythic backdrop of natural cycles. Several narratives involve the initiation of a child or young man into the knowledge of tragedy and the vanity of human aspirations. Others trace the pattern of exile and return in the lives of Cape Bretoners who yearn to escape their impoverished home but find themselves irresistibly drawn back, either in actuality or imagination. His work explores characters' historic and geographic ties to a homeland; many of the stories are about the Highland Scots people of Cape Breton who have preserved highland traditions and the Gaelic language for almost 200 years.

Alistair MacLeod pursues these themes at greater length in his first novel, No Great Mischief (1999), in which the novel's narrator, Alexander MacDonald, outlines the history of his family from its 18th-century emigration from Scotland to Nova Scotia until the 1980s. The novel was nominated for all Canada's major literary awards, and won the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

In 2000, the author's short stories were collected in a single volume, Island: The Collected Stories, to which two new stories were added. The new, title story introduces Alistair MacLeod's first female protagonist, who is the last of her family to run the lighthouse two miles from the island. It continues Alistair MacLeod's unsentimental portrayal of the cultural decline of Nova Scotia. This was followed by To Everything There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story (2004), an illustrated Christmas story.

Alistair MacLeod is the subject of a National Film Board documentary, Reading Alistair MacLeod (2005), which explores his life in interview with him, his family and admirers such as Margaret Atwood and Colm Tóibín.

In 2008, Alistair MacLeod was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his commitment to Canadian literature and influence on other Canadian authors.

Selected Works of
Alistair MacLeod

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