W.O. Mitchell Archives Tour at the Taylor Family Digital Library

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Thank you to Andrea (Annie) Murray, Head of Archives and Special Collections for her presentation to the CWLC.

W.O. Mitchell, 1914 – 1998

Members of the Calgary Women’s Literary Club enjoyed a fascinating glimpse into the life of popular Canadian author W.O. Mitchell at our first meeting of the 2015-16 year. Courtesy of Annie Murray, archivist with the University of Calgary’s Taylor Family Digital Family Library, we also learned how privileged we are to have access to such a wide variety of material.

Mitchell was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, but spent much of his life in Calgary. He trained to be a school teacher, but became one of the first Canadian authors to be able to live off his writing.

While attending the University of Alberta, he was mentored by Dr. F.M. Salter who was known primarily as a Shakespearean scholar of some renown. Indeed, our own Anita Madill, once took a course on Shakespeare taught by Dr. Salter. Anita confessed that, such was his reputation, it was a quite terrifying experience. Terrifying or not for Mitchell, he certainly benefited from the extensive notations and suggestions that Dr. Salter made on some of Mitchell’s early pieces of work. And, clearly, Dr. Salter took his role of mentor very seriously, maintaining a lengthy period of correspondence with Mitchell, most if not all of which is included in the archival material. Indeed, Dr. Salter is credited with creating a still vibrant mentoring environment among Alberta writers.

Mitchell’s most successful and critically acclaimed work was his novel “Who Has Seen the Wind” published in 1947. While Mitchell never again received the same level of critical success for his lighter, satirical themes, or even the more serious “The Vanishing Point” published in 1973, these books and stories were immensely popular with readers.

In addition to novels, Mitchell wrote short stories, plays and scripts. Between 1950 and 1958, he was a regular on CBC Radio and many of his radio plays were made into television shows in the 1960’s. Perhaps his enduring popularity might be attributed to the radio, which cemented his reputation and created a wide audience.

The original purchase of the archival material was made possible by the U. of C. Alumni Association and the Provincial Government of the day. Then Mitchell continued to send material and the final donation came from his estate in 1976. The archival material includes family papers, scrapbooks, research notes, manuscripts, production scripts, reviews, business correspondence, personal letters and fan mail, audiovisual material (including original recordings from the CBC), interviews, workshops and readings.

On March 13, 2014, the University hosted a party to celebrate Mitchell’s 100th birthday. On that occasion, Mayor Naheed Nenshi declared March 13 W.O. Mitchell Day – a fitting tribute to much beloved author.

Thank you to Margaret Sparkes for this excellent summary, for those of us unable to attend.

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