Susan Musgrave | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Susan Musgrave

Susan Musgrave, poet, novelist, essayist (born 12 March 1951 in Santa Cruz, California).

Susan Musgrave, poet, novelist, essayist (born 12 March 1951 in Santa Cruz, California). The author of 19 books of poetry and 4 novels, and a four-time nominee for the Governor General’s Award, Susan Musgrave is one of Canada’s most prominent writers.

Early Life and Poetry

Susan Musgrave left school at 14 and had poems published in The Malahat Reviewat 16. Her first book of poems, Songs of the Sea-Witch (1970), introduced many of her subsequent themes, with a poetic persona searching for an identity against a mythological and animated landscape. The Impstone (1976), a series of gothic poems, similarly evokes an animistic natural world with sometimes violent imagery, and Kiskatinaw Songs (1979, with Sean Virgo) is based on the legends and songs of West Coast Aboriginal peoples. Her poems often explore the difficulty of human relationships, in works such as A Man to Marry, A Man to Bury (1979) and her more recent collection, Things That Keep and Do Not Change (1999). More recent volumes include Obituary of Light: The Sangan River Meditations (2009) and Origami Dove (2011).

Fiction and Essays

Susan Musgrave’s interest in West Coast mythologies and militant feminism are reflected in her first novel, The Charcoal Burners (1980); her second, The Dancing Chicken (1987), is a darkly satiric novel with highly eccentric characters. The Dancing Chicken was followed by Cargo of Orchids (2000) and Given (2012). She has also written five children's books: Gullband (1974), a series of poems; Hag's Head (1980), a Halloween story; Kestrel and Leonardo (1991), Dreams More Real Than Bathtubs (1998) and Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug (2012). Her essays and humorous newspaper columns are collected in Great Musgrave (1989), Musgrave Landing: Musings on the Writing Life (1994) and You’re In Canada Now…: A Memoir of Sorts (2005).

Marriage to Stephen Reid

In 1983, Susan Musgrave read the manuscript for the novel that would eventually be published as Jackrabbit Parole (1986), by Stephen Reid, a convicted bank robber and member of the Stopwatch Gang serving an 18-year sentence in Millhaven Institution in Bath, Ontario. Musgrave and Reid were married in the prison on 12 October 1986. When Reid was granted full parole in 1987, the couple moved to a cottage on Vancouver Island. The CBC ran a documentary on their relationship, The Poet and the Bandit, which aired in January 1999. In June of that same year, Reid was arrested for bank robbery in Victoria, BC, and in December he was sentenced to 19 years in prison. In January 2008 Reid was released from prison on day parole.


Susan Musgrave was the recipient of the Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of A Writing Life, Writer’s Trust of Canada (2014), given in memory of Matt Cohen.

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