Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520
Michel Tremblay was born in east-end Montreal on June 25, 1942, the youngest child of a working-class family. His family lived in a small seven-room house with two other families, and Tremblay remembers distinctly the first voices of his life: women who would speak candidly to one another about their lives and who would censor nothing in front of the young child. Indeed, these are the voices sounded in many of his plays, especially Les Belles-surs. In 1955, he won a scholarship to a school for gifted children; his innate distaste for the cultural elite soon caused him to return to the public schools.
Tremblay speaks of his adolescence as a time of personal anguish, a time when writing became his primary channel of expression. Moreover, as a young man he became obsessed with television: “It was the only theatre I knew.” In 1959, he took a job as a linotype operator and during this period wrote his first television play, Le Train, for which he eventually won first prize in the 1964 Radio-Canada Contest for Young Authors. It is also in 1964 that he met André Brassard, who became one of his closest friends, his principal collaborator, and the director of many of the premier performances of his plays. His publishing career began in 1966 with a book of short stories, Contes pour buveurs attardés (Stories for Late Night Drinkers, 1978). In the same year, he submitted his first full-length play, Les Belles-surs (written in 1965), to the Dominion Drama Festival, but the revolutionary piece was rejected. Two years later, however, it was produced, with great success, at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert in Montreal and later in Paris.
The years following 1968 marked a creative and prolific period for Tremblay. For English-speaking Canadians, however, Tremblay was not so widely publicized, partly because of the playwright’s desire to restrict his work to his French compatriots. It was only after 1976, the year the Separatists’ Parti Québécois under René Lévesque took power in the provincial House, that Tremblay opened his work to the English-speaking world. After 1976, translations of his plays appeared, productions abounded, and Tremblay emerged as Canada’s leading playwright, recognized as such in both North America and Europe. That he has achieved international acclaim testifies to the fact that his work is as universal in meaning as it is specific to contemporary Quebec life.
In the late 1980’s, Tremblay’s work became increasingly autobiographical with such plays as The Real World? and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again and the series of autobiographical novels, Chroniques du Plateau-Mont-Royal. In 1989 he added Le Premier Quartier de la lune to the series, and Un Objet de beauté (A Thing of Beauty, 1998) was published in 1997. He has also written the memoirs Les Vues animées (1995; Bambi and Me, 1998) and Douze coups de théâtre (1992; Twelve Opening Acts, 2002).
In general, Tremblay is so productive in so many artistic genres—musical theater, opera, fiction, painting, and film among them—that an observer may find it difficult to keep track of what Tremblay has done and is doing. His career is certainly one of the richest in literary history.
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