The beloved Canadian novelist and short story writer Margaret Laurence died on January, 5, 1987, by suicide at the age of sixty. Laurence, a lifelong smoker had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and chose to take her own life in order to spare herself and her family a prolonged and painful death.
Laurence was buried in her hometown of Neepawa, Manitoba, where she had had a troubled upbringing. Laurence’s mother died when Laurence was four years old, and Laurence’s aunt, her mother’s sister, moved in to help look after her.
A year later her aunt married Laurence’s father. He died four years later, when Laurence was nine. She lived with her maternal grandparents until she left home for Winnipeg at the age of eighteen to go to university.
These early losses left Laurence with a lifetime of problems with anxiety and depression.
In 1947 she married a hydraulic engineer, Jack Laurence, whose work building dams took Laurence and the couple’s two children to various postings in Africa, where she first began to write.
She published stories and one novel with African settings during this time. Laurence left her husband in 1962, moving with the children first to England, then to Lakefield, Ontario, where she spent the rest of her life.
Laurence’s novels — from The Stone Angel to The Diviners — hit a raw nerve in Canadian fiction through the 1960s and seventies with their straightforward stories of strong women facing life’s challenges.
Most of her books were set at least partly in the fictional town Manawaka, a stand-in for Neepawa. Many critics have said that Laurence created a rural Manitoba world equal to William Faulkner’s fictional Yoknaptawpha County.
Laurence won the Governor General’s Award twice and was instrumental in founding The Writers Trust of Canada. She served briefly as the chancellor of Trent University and was known to be generous with her guidance of young writers.
Still, she lived with her demons, especially her alcoholism which often caused strained relationships with family and friends.
However, in a comparatively short career she managed to bring Canadian literature onto the forefront of the world stage and her popularity has only grown over time.