Alden Nowlan

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Alden Nowlan sitting on a sofa in the Art Centre, with a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. UA PR; Series 2, Sub-series 4, File 1021, Item 1

-Education: N/A

-Years as Writer-in-Residence: 1968-1983

-Other Positions at UNB: N/A

Biography at UNB

Alden Nowlan was UNB’s third writer-in-residence from 1968 to his death in 1983. Nowlan was born on January 25, 1933, in Stanley, Nova Scotia, into a household of extreme poverty that did not have heating, plumbing, or electricity. Nowlan states that he began writing verses when he was eleven and that he “was ashamed of doing it.” Growing up in a rural area, Nowlan comments that many of the men around him “were afraid of weakness… afraid of love, which they equated with weakness. They were pathetically afraid of tenderness too.” Nowlan then goes on to specify that this masculine stoicism often led these men to associate poetry with tenderness and love. His experience of rural poverty would inform much of his literary work.

After quitting school 37 days into grade 5, Nowlan spent much of his youth working at a sawmill by day and hitchhiking into town to visit the library by night. Nowlan was often fond of saying that he “was the only professional writer who would be classified as functionally illiterate by Statistics Canada.” After answering a job ad for reporter from the Hartland Observer, he managed to secure the job by lying about his high school diploma and previous writing experience. Later in his career, Nowlan became a reporter and editor for the Telegraph Journal in Saint John. During his career as a newspaper reporter in Hartland, Nowlan met Richard Hatfield - a man whose occupation as premier of New Brunswick would later help secure UNB’s funding to keep Nowlan as a permanent writer-in-residence at UNB. In 1966 Nowlan underwent a set of serious surgeries after he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This was a flashpoint in Nowlan’s literary history because he began to have doubts that newspaper editing was the best career for him. The next year, he won the Governor General’s Award for his book Bread, Wine, and Salt, a collection containing many poems that depicted his struggle with cancer. In 1968 he was granted his residency at UNB. Richard Hatfield, who Nowlan had met working in Hartland, made sure that a “miniscule fraction” of New Brunswick’s budget would be pledged towards Nowlan’s residency at UNB for as long as the poet lived.

During his tenure at UNB, he had a great affect on students and instructors alike. Nowlan’s house soon became “a lively social centre… where there was always the promise of a good discussion on literature, politics, and culture.” As early as 1969, students were visiting at his home at 676 Windsor Street, and one professor, Donald Cameron, noticed that they often mentioned him in personal essays that he assigned to them. Nowlan himself claimed to be pleased with his position as writer-in-residence and said that, “If there is anything I’d like to be remembered for in years to come, it would that I had given confidence to writers to write about places where they actually lived…” This piece of advice would be of great help to David Adam Richards, whose novel Nights Below Station Street won the Governor General’s award for fiction in 1988 and depicted life in Miramichi, New Brunswick. Nowlan mentored Richards during his residency. Ted Jones, a graduate from UNB, also records that Nowlan was one of the first poets to visit high schools, giving both readings and lessons. Despite working on his own writing, as well as giving advice to writers at UNB, Nowlan continued to give feedback to the students he visited at Fredericton High School when they sent him poems.

Alden Nowlan held the position of writer-in-residence after Dorothy Livesay, and was succeeded by David Adams Richards. While Nowlan held the position from 1968 to 1983, John Metcalf also held the title during 1972 and 1973.

Notes: Alden Nowlan was awarded an honorary D.Litt. from UNB at Encaenia in 1971.


UA Case 191; Section 2; Files 1-2; Alden Nowlan

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