Jean Margaret (Peggy) Wemyss was born in Neepawa, Manitoba on July 18, 1926, to Robert Harrison Wemyss, a lawyer, and Verna Jean, nee Simpson. Margaret s mother died when she was only four and her father later married her sister, Margaret Cambell Simpson, a teacher and later a librarian. She was throughout the years one of Margaret s greatest encouragers. After her father s death, when she was nine and her brother still a baby, the family went to live with Grandfather Simpson in his big brick house on the first avenue. After graduating from high school in 1944, Margaret attended United College (now the University of Winnipeg) and was an assistant editor of the college paper, Vox. She graduated from United College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1946, and married John Fergus Laurence September on September 13, 1947, in the Neepawa United Church. She then worked for a time as a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen.
In 1950, after living for a year in England, Margaret and her husband moved to British Somaliland. While there, she wrote a translation of Somali prose and poetry, A Tree for Poetry. A travel book, The Prophet s Camel Bell, written some years later, describes the Laurences experience in Somaliland. They moved to Accra, Ghana in 1952, with their 2-month-old daughter Jocelyn. During their five years in Africa, Margaret produced her first novel, This Side Jordan, which won the 1961 Beta Sigma Phi Award for the best first novel by a Canadian. A collection of short stories, The Tomorrow Tamer, Written a few years later, is also set in West Africa. Out of her African years came an interest in contemporary literature by Africans, which resulted in her study of Nigerian fiction and drama, Long Drums and Cannons. The Laurences son, David, was born in Ghana in 1955.
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After having Africa, they moved to Vancouver for five years. During this time Margaret wrote The Christmas as Birthday Story. They then moved to England for seven years. In the ten-year period, 1964-1974, the Manawaka books were published: The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1969), The Fire Dweller s (1969), A Bird in the House (1970), and The Diviner s (1974). The last decade of her life focused on promoting causes she passionately supported – peace, social justice, the equality of women, environmental protection – through letters, lectures, essays and fund-raising campaigns. Margaret Laurence died on January 5, 1987, and at her request, her ashes were brought by her children to be interred in Riverside Cemetery, Neepawa, on June 23.