Margaret Laurence was born Jean Margaret Wemyss on July 18, 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba. Her ancestry was a mixture of Scottish and Irish-Canadian. She was an inveterate reader as a child and began to write stories in her childhood. She wrote stories for the school magazine; by the age of thirteen she had imagined a fictional town of Manawaka, clearly based on Neepawa. Later she would portray that town of Manawaka as the context for her heroines’ varied experiences.
Laurence’s father, Robert Wemyss, was a lawyer, and her mother, Verna Simpson, was a musician. Her maternal grandfather was a cabinetmaker and became the town undertaker. Laurence’s youth was marked with tragic losses and remarkable adaptations on the part of her family. When Laurence was four, her mother died suddenly, and her aunt came to live with her father and her. This aunt, Margaret Simpson, married Laurence’s father a year later, and the couple had one child, Robert. Laurence and her stepmother developed a close relationship that persisted throughout Laurence’s formative years. Tragedy struck again four years later when Laurence’s father died. Laurence’s stepmother faced an uncertain future since she was a woman rearing two children alone. Help arrived in the person of Laurence’s maternal grandfather, eighty-two years old and also recently widowed, who came to live with them. The grandfather was in good health and became a strong influence in Laurence’s life. Although her stepmother often became engaged in bitter conflicts with her stubborn grandfather, the two provided a stable environment for Laurence and her brother.
Laurence went to college in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and continued to write. In 1947, she was graduated and became a reporter. That same year she married an engineer, Jack...
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