She ran away from home at the age of 14, was in a psychiatric ward for several months, and fell in love with and married a bank robber who was still in prison at the time and would go back again. It is said that from hardship comes great works of art. So it seems for Susan Musgrave, who has used her experiences to inform her work and win numerous awards, starting with her first prize win for poetry in Grade 8.
She has continued to win awards for poetry, fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature and editing ever since. Listen to Musgrave read and discuss her work at York’s Michael Ondaatje Reading Series Wednesday, Sept. 24, from 4:30 to 6pm, in the Senior Common Room, 3rd Floor of York Hall, Glendon campus.
Right: Susan Musgrave on the cover of Word Works: The Journal of the Federation of British Columbia Writers, Spring 2004 issue
Her love of books, reading and writing came early in life; so did her attraction to danger. Musgrave writes that she was kicked out of kindergarten class for laughing and sent to occupy the library’s thinking chair, where she realized books and thinking were dangerous. She soon developed a love for books, reading and writing. Musgrave followed her early poetry win Songs of the Sea Witch, her first book of poetry published when she was just 19.
In 1981, she won a National Magazine Award (silver), followed by third place in the RP Adams Memorial Prize for Short Fiction in the US in 1989. In between the two awards, Musgrave divorced her second husband while he was serving a four-year sentence for smuggling, and in 1986 married her third husband, convicted bank robber Stephen Reid, who was in prison at the time for his involvement in a series of armed robberies by the notorious Stopwatch Gang. Her first introduction to Reid was through a manuscript he wrote while serving time loosely based on his experiences as a bank robber. Musgrave edited the manuscript, which was later published as Jackrabbit Parole (Seal Books, 1986). Reid was released in 1987, then imprisoned again for a 1999 bank robbery and shootout with police in Victoria. He was allowed day parole earlier this year after undergoing substance abuse treatment.
Musgrave also won the bp nichol Poetry Chapbook Award in 1991 and the Reader’s Choice Award for poetry published in the 1993 winter edition of Prairie Schooner magazine. Her children’s book, Dreams Are More Real Than Bathtubs (Orca Book Publishers, 1999), was selected by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre for Our Choice 1999-2000. Her most recent books are You’re in Canada Now….A Memoir of Sorts (Thistledown Press, 2005); Cargo of Orchids (Knopf, 2000), a national bestseller; What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985 (Beach Holme, 2000) and Things That Keep and Do Not Change (McClelland & Stewart, 1999).
Musgrave has been short-listed for the Governor General’s Award four times and nominated for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour twice. She is also the editor of Breaking the Surface (Sono Nis, 2000), which won the BC 2000 Book Award, and Nerves Out Loud: Critical Moments in the Lives of Seven Teen Girls (Annick Press, 2001), which won the Foremost Magazine Book of the Year Award in New York.
Musgrave has been writer-in-residence at numerous schools, including the University of Waterloo, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Western Ontario, Banff Centre for the Arts, the Victoria School of Writing and the University of Toronto.
Born in California, Musgrave grew up on Vancouver Island. She continues to live and write in BC.