Dorothy Livesay

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Dorothy Livesay reading in 1967. Series UA PC 4, Item no. 14o (1)

-Education: BA University of Toronto 1931, 

-Years as Writer-in-Residence: 1966-1968

-Other Positions at UNB: N/A

Biography at UNB

Dorothy Livesay was the University of New Brunswick’s writer-in-residence for the 1966 and 1967 school years. Born October 12, 1909 in Winnipeg, Livesay’s family soon moved to Toronto in 1920, where she took an interest in a broad variety of poets and began her own writing. Livesay’s first volume of poetry, Green Pitcher, was published in 1928. Throughout her career, Livesay wrote Marxist and feminist criticism of society while remaining powerfully lyrical and subtle. She was bestowed the Governor General’s award in 1944 for her collection Day and Night, and received the award again in 1947 for Poems for People.

Livesay began corresponding with Desmond Pacey as early as 1946; their letters deal mostly with literary criticism of Canadian authors such as Isabella Valency Crawford, as well as Pacey's commentary on poems of Livesay. There is also evidence that Pacey recommended Livesay for fellowships at Canadian universities as early as 1958. Pacey also edited and introduced a volume of Livesay’s selected poems in 1957.

As Norman Levine’s residency began to draw to a close in late 1966, Pacey began look for a new writer to fill the position of writer-in-residence at UNB. On April 7, 1966, Pacey sent letters offering the position to a number of writers, including Livesay. She replied on April 13, with enthusiasm for the possibility of filling the residency. There was, however, a delay in the Canada Council’s confirmation of the fund to support Livesay’s residency. Livesay herself suspected that this was because someone present on the council did not approve of her communist politics and activism; in a letter to Pacey, Livesay called herself “a pacifist, and not political animal…” and sought to portray her conduct on university campus’ as “decorous”. The Canada Council’s doubts did not arise from Livesay’s politics, but rather from the career’s matured stage; the council had wished that the grant money for a writer-in-residence be given to a writer with “a particular need and should be at a particularly productive stage in their career.” The council agreed to Livesay’s appointment in late April, and Pacey confirmed the appointment with Livesay in June. For her second year in residence, Livesay did not receive funding from the Canada Council, but was deemed a part of the English Department’s staff and termed “Resident Writer” rather than given an official title of professor. Livesay does not appeared listed in the official course calendar for the 1967-1968 school year.

In her time writer-in-residence, Livesay was expected to give public lectures and run graduate level creative writing classes on top of dedicating time to meet with prospective writers and offer critiques of their work. Livesay also had a number of other engagements during her residency: she attended the Atlantic Student Conference in early 1967 acting as a resource person, went on tour for two weeks of February of the same year, and wrote reviews for UNB’s literary magazine The Fiddlehead. During the 1967-68 schoolyear, Livesay began to use McCord Hall, informally known as the Icehouse, as a space for creative writing workshops, a practice which has continued up until the contemporary period of the university. On using McCord Hall for these workshops, Livesay commented to Pacey that she was seeking “a comprise between the hardness of the seminar room and the softness of my sofa.” Near the end of her residence, Livesay helped the English department in suggesting new potential writers for the program, including John Newlove.

Though Livesay was generally amiable with UNB’s English department, she did have a number of concerns how the department was managed. Livesay expressed that particular doctoral student’s inability to speak publicly rendered the student unable to be a professor, and that should this student be granted a PhD, it would reflect poorly on the English department’s standards. Additionally, she cites the unequal pay that MA assistants were receiving compared to other departments as an indication that the English department was not being fair to its graduate students. Pacey himself became a target of Livesay’s criticism; the poet thought he was too interested in administrative power within the English department, and noted a recent incident where Pacey suggested a democratic process of appointing new persons to positions of Head of English and Dean of Graduate Studies, only to withdraw this method and emplace his own candidates. New Brunswick’s poverty was another subject Livesay was concerned with; in letter to Pacey dated November 14, 1967, Livesay remarks, “In my view, New Brunswick people have just never faced the fact that they have never tried to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Their dependence on outside ‘sponsors’ has been utterly deplorable. So the young people flee… in droves!”

There is some evidence to suggest that Livesay was not completely at ease in her position as writer-in-residence; she wrote to Pacey saying she felt “isolated” and that she had “no one to have dialogues with – exchange ideas.” In a letter to Robert Gibbs in April of 1972, Livesay states that teaching did not appeal to her, though being a writer-in-residence was relatively affable for her.

Dorothy Livesay was preceded by Norman Levine, and succeeded by Alden Nowlan




UA Case 191; Section 2; Dorothy Livesay

MG L 1: Desmond Pacey Fonds, Series 2.3, Case 12, Files 1-3.

MG L 37: Robert Gibbs Fonds, Series 2, File 10b, Box 2

© UNB Archives & Special Collections, 2014