Jane Urquhart was born in the northern Canadian mining community of Little Long Lac and grew up in Cramahe Township, Northumberland County, and in Toronto. She studied English literature and art history at the University of Guelph and first published three volumes of poetry, in which the visual power of her writing was already fundamental. “Learning to see and visual memory are really so important. Learning how to compose a landscape, for instance; to eliminate what doesn’t need to be there and to add what does. Almost any painting is a combination of memory, fantasy and actuality in varying degrees. Exactly the same thing is true of writing.” The collection “The Little Flowers of Madame de Montespan” (1984), poems written from the perspective of Louis XIV’s second mistress, are played out, for instance, within the contrast between French landscape gardening and the Canadian wilderness. The seven novels she has written since then have established Urquhart as one of Canada’s best-known writers in her country and abroad.
Landscape and love, the central themes of her work, unfold through family chronicles and the destinies of immigrants. The history of the waning nineteenth century, in particular, pr ovides the background for her atmospheric texts. Her first novel, “The Whirlpool” (1986), links the destiny of a mortician’s widow (actually based on Urquhart’s husband’s grandmother) to the death of the poet Robert Browning. “Changing Heaven” (1990) interlaces the stories of a contemporary Brontë scholar and a female nineteenth-century balloonist. “Away” (1993), which remained a bestseller in Canada for many years, pr esents a portrait of a family of Irish immigrants through their exceptional, strong women. “The Stone Carvers” (2001) which culminates in the building of a huge Canadian First World War Memorial in Vimy, France, follows the destinies of 19th century German immigrants to Canada, and the development of the Ontario rural landscape where they settled. Most recently Urquhart has published “A Map of Glass” (2005), about a family that made a living from logging on the St. Lawrence River, and like so much of her work it pays homage to the landscape of her native Ontario.
Urquhart was Writer in Residence at the University of Ottawa, at the University of Guelph, and at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. At the University of Toronto she held the Presidential Writer in Residence Fellowship. She is a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres as well as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Her awards include the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Marian Engel Award for her complete works, the Trillium Award, the Harbourfront International Festival Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and nominations for the Giller Prize, The Orange Prize, The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Urquhart lives with her husband, the visual artist Tony Urquhart, in a small town in southeastern Ontario, and also spends time in a small cottage in the south west of Ireland.
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