William Ormond Mitchell grew up on the edge of the Canadian prairies in a small town of about five thousand inhabitants. His father, the town’s druggist, died suddenly in 1921, when Mitchell was seven years old. This sparked an early preoccupation in the boy with the theme of mortality, a theme that later surfaced in much of his writing. When he was twelve years old Mitchell contracted bovine tuberculosis of the wrist and was advised to move to a warmer climate. The family thereupon moved first to California, then to St. Petersburg, Florida. Here Mitchell attended high school and discovered his interest in drama.
He enrolled at the University of Manitoba in 1931 to study medicine, but his education was interrupted by a recurrence of problems with his wrist. For the next several years Mitchell traveled widely, holding a variety of odd jobs along the way. While working for the Seattle Times, he became active in a local theater, honing skills that later served him well both as a writer and as a public reader of his writings. By 1940 he was back at the university to finish his education. A course in creative writing under F. M. Salter proved especially influential. In fact, Mitchell’s first book, Who Has Seen the Wind, was written partly under Salter’s guidance.
Mitchell married, taught for several years, and at the same time began to get his stories published in such magazines as Maclean’s Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly. After the successful appearance of his first novel, Mitchell moved to Toronto as fiction editor for Maclean’s. Finding himself increasingly involved in radio, television, and journalistic work, he decided to move back to his home in High River, Alberta, to devote more time to writing. He stayed there for seventeen years, raising a family and writing weekly scripts for the popular Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) radio series Jake and the Kid. In 1961 he turned these scripts into two collections of short fiction, and a year later he published his second novel, The...
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