Musgrave, Susan 1951-

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Musgrave, Susan 1951-


Born March 12, 1951, in Santa Cruz, CA; daughter of Edward L. and Judith B. Musgrave; married Jeffrey Green (a lawyer), 1975 (marriage ended c. 1979); married Paul Oscar Nelson (divorced); married Stephen Douglas Reid, 1986; children: (with Nelson) Charlotte Amelia Musgrave Nelson, (with Reid) Sophie Alexandra Musgrave Reid. Education: Educated in British Columbia, Canada.


Home—Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Agent—The Bukowski Agency, 14 Prince Arthur Ave., Ste. 202, Toronto, Ontario M5R 1A9, Canada.


Writer and educator. Arvon Foundation, instructor, 1975, 1980; University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, writer-in-residence and instructor in English and creative writing, 1983-85; University of New Brunswick, writer-in-residence, 1985; Vancouver Public Library, writer-in-residence, 1986; Kootenay School of Writing, instructor, 1986; Ganarska Writers Colony, Fiction Workshop, writer-in-residence, 1988; Camosun College, instructor, 1988—; Sidney Public Library, British Columbia, writer-in-residence, 1989; York University, writer-in-electronic-residence, 1991-94; University of Western Ontario, writer-in-residence, 1992-93; University of Toronto, Presidential writer-in-residence, 1995; Victoria School of Writing, writer-in-residence, 1996, 1998, 2006; Malaspina College, Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry, fall, 2000; British of Columbia Festival of the Arts, mentor, 2001; University of Northern British Columbia, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada, five-day summer courses, 2001-04, and course in 2007; Island Mountain Arts, Well, British Columbia, Canada, poetry and fiction workshops, 2001-03; University of British Columbia, adjunct professor, 2005—; and University of Victoria Summer School, 2007.


League of Canadian Poets, National Poetry Secretariat, Writers' Union of Canada.


Canada Council travel grant, 1969-70, arts bursary, 1972-73, and arts grant, 1974-75, 1976-77, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1989, and 1991; Du Maurier Magazine Award, 1982; R.P. Adams Short Fiction Award, 1989; b.p. nichol Poetry Chapbook Award, 1990, for In the Small Hours of the Rain; British Columbia Cultural Fund Grant, 1991, 1994; Reader's Choice Award, Prairie Schooner, winter, 1993; CBC/Saturday Night/Tilden Award for Poetry, 1996; Vicky Metcalf Short Story Editor's Award, 1996.



Songs of the Sea-Witch, Sono Nis Press (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1970.

Skuld, Sceptre Press (Frensham, England), 1971.

Birthstone, Sceptre Press (Frensham, England), 1972.

Entrance of the Celebrant, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972.

Equinox, Sceptre Press (Rushden, England), 1973.

Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.

Kung, Sceptre Press (Frensham, England), 1973.

Against (pamphlet), Sceptre Press (Frensham, England), 1974.

Gullband Thought Measles Was a Happy Ending (for children), J.J. Douglas (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1974.

Two Poems, Sceptre Press (Frensham, England), 1975.

The Impstone, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.

Becky Swan's Book, Porcupine's Quill (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

For Charlie Beaulieu in Yellowknife Who Told Me Go Back to the South and Write Another Poem about Indians (pamphlet), Sceptre Press (Knotting, England), 1977.

(With Sean Virgo) Kiskatinaw Songs, illustrated by Douglas Tait, Pharos Press (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1977.

Selected Strawberries: Poems, 1969-1973, Sono Nis Press (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1977.

Two Poems for the Blue Moon (pamphlet), Sceptre Press (Knotting, England), 1977.

A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979.

Conversations during the Omelette aux Fine Herbes (pamphlet), Sceptre Press (Knotting, England), 1979.

Hag-Head, Clarke, Irwin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

When My Boots Drive off in a Cadillac, League of Canadian Poets (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

I do not know if things that happen can be said to come to pass or only happen, Hoffer (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1982.

Tarts and Muggers: Poems, New and Selected, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.

Cocktails at the Mausoleum, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Great Musgrave, Prentice Hall (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Kestrel and Leonardo (for children), illustrated by Linda Rogers, Studio 123, 1990.

The Embalmer's Art: Poems, 1970-1991, Exile Editions (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

In the Small Hours of the Rain, British Columbia (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1991.

Forcing the Narcissus, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1994.

Twenty-eight Uses for Al Purdy's Ashes, Published for the Hawthorne Society by Reference West (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1999.

Things That Keep and Do Not Change, M&S (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems, 1970-1985, Beach Holme Pub. (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2000.

Stopping by a Mailbox on a Snowy Evening, Pooka Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2004.

Canadian Roulette, Pooka Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2004.

Nothing, Pooka Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2004.


The Charcoal Burners, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

The Dancing Chicken, Methuen (London, England), 1987.

Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs (picture book), illustrated by with Marie-Louise Gay, Orca (Custer, WA), 1998.

Cargo of Orchids, Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.


(Compiler) Clear-cut Words: Writers for Clayoquot, Hawthorne Society (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.

Musgrave Landing: Musings on the Writing Life, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

(Editor) Because You Loved Being a Stranger: 55 Poets Celebrate Patrick Lane, Harbour (Madeira Park, British Columbia, Canada), 1994.

(Editor) Nerves Out Loud: Critical Moments in the Lives of Seven Teen Girls, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

You Be Me: Friendship in the Lives of Teen Girls, Annick Press (New York, NY), 2002.

The Fed Anthology, Anvil Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2003.

(Editor) Certain Things about My Mother: Daughters Speak, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

(Editor) Perfectly Secret: The Hidden Lives of Seven Teen Girls, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

You're in Canada Now … Motherfucker: [A Memoir of Sorts], Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2005.

Also author of Taboo Man, 1981, The Plane Put down in Sacramento, 1982, The Wages of Love (radio play), 1987, and Desireless: Tom York (1947-1988), 1988. Author of lyrics to CD titled Missing, 2003.


Also author of Mother's Day behind the West Hotel (chapbook), published by Poetgoat Press, and The Spiritualization of Cruelty, six poems with drawings by Pavel Skalnik, limited edition, 1992. Contributor of poems to numerous publications, including Canadian Forum, Ellipse, Saturday Night, Toronto Globe & Mail, Poetry Review, New York Times, and West Coast Poetry Review.

Poems anthologized in collections, including Mindscapes, 1970; Aurora: Canadian Writing, 1978, 1979; The Poets of Canada, 1978; Literature in Canada, 1978; Canadian Literature in the Seventies, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980; Gangsters, Ghosts and Dragonflies, George Allen & Unwin, 1981; New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse, Oxford, 1982; Antologia de la Poesia anglocanadiense contemporanea, Los Libros de la Frontera, 1985; The New Canadian Poets 1970-1985, McClelland & Stewart, 1985; The Norton Introduction to Poetry, 3rd edition, 1986, and 6th edition, 1994; The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 1988, 1989; The Norton Introduction to Literature, Regular, 6th edition, 1994; The Great Big Book of Canadian Humour, edited by Allan Gould, Macmillan, 1992; Poetry: An Introduction (Bedford Books of St Martin's Press, 1994; Bedford Introduction to Literature, Bedford Books, 1995; and Uncommon Wealth, Oxford, 1997. Poetry has been broadcast on numerous Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) programs, including Anthology.

Short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies, including Fever: Sensual Stories by Women Writers, edited by Michelle Slung, Harcourt Brace, 1994; Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventure, edited by Katherine Govier, Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1994; Best American Erotica, edited by Susie Bright, Simon & Schuster, 1995; Horizons, edited by Ken Roy, Harcourt Brace, 1994; and Far and Wide, edited by Sean Armstrong, Nelson, 1994. Author of a nationally syndicated biweekly column, "Writer-in-Residence," for the Toronto Star and columnist for Vancouver Sun. Editor for Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Canada), 1994-97.


Gullband Thought Measles Was a Happy Ending was adapted for the stage by Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille, 1976; Cargo of Orchids has been adapted for stage and film, Back Alley Films, 2000.


Perhaps the most recognizable trait of Susan Musgrave's poetry is her graphic and often shocking portrayal of sex and violence. The underlying strength of her work, however, has received frequent critical acclaim and has been compared to that of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Despite appreciation for Musgrave's honesty and willingness to explore unusual subjects, critics find that some of her images remain unclear or ultimately succeed only in shocking the reader. An understanding of Musgrave's tendency to shock readers may be found in Ed Jewinski's interview for Cross-Canada Writers' Quarterly. In the interview, Musgrave explained: "I guess much of my poetry results because things shock me—human relations especially shock me. The way people treat each other shocks me—in love, in war, in prisons, in any thing, even in everyday relationships on the street. I don't know how things work; I don't know how it all stays together. Poetry is the only way I know of trying to make sense of it."

Musgrave challenges social ethics and values in her novels The Charcoal Burners and The Dancing Chicken. The first is the story of a Canadian girl who spurns modern society and travels across the islands of British Columbia with her Indian husband in search of a lifestyle based upon a romanticized past. The harsh reality of the present, however, interferes even in the wilderness, where exiles of contemporary society have established depraved communities. While faulting this novel as disjointed, critics commend its rich psychological detail and wry humor. A contributor to Books in Canada remarked: "I respect the myths and metaphors of The Charcoal Burners, admire its energy of imagination and naturalness of expression. It is a striking fictional debut." The Dancing Chicken offers a satirical portrait of the lives, loves, passions, and guilts of an upper-class community. The tightly structured plot of this comedy of manners revolves around a caddish lawyer whose desires and indiscretions affect nearly everyone with whom he comes into contact. Musgrave is praised for her lucid, candid treatment of social class in this novel.

In addition to her prolific output of poetry and fiction, Musgrave is responsible for numerous nonfiction books, both as a writer and editor. Great Musgrave, published in 1989, brings together many of the author's nonfiction writings up to that time. Instilling humor in most of her pieces, the author writes about writer's block, marriage to a man while he was in prison, poetry readings, posing nude for a photo shoot, motherhood, and numerous other topics. In Musgrave Landing: Musings on the Writing Life, the author delves into what it's like to be a writer, from the anxiety of the blank page to the ups and downs of books tours. She also writes about her travels, which include the Musgrave Landing of the title, Disneyland, and Trinidad.

In her 1998 children's book, Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, the author takes sayings from one of her daughters to introduce readers to a little pigtailed girl and her stuffed lion. The story revolves around the little girl's apprehension and dreams before she starts the first grade. Although worried, the little girl does make new friends at school and eventually takes her mother to school for show-and-tell. "The plot itself unfolds like a dream, with non sequiturs galore," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Writing in Booklist, GraceAnne A. DeCandido called Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs a "slightly surreal, stream of consciousness picture book."

The author has also continued to produce volumes of poetry, such as 1994's Forcing the Narcissus. In an overview of the book on the author's home page, the poems in the collection were described this way: "Her … poetry, still bent on the sadness of beauty, reflects ten years of change, and there's a deeper acknowledgement now of a world where anything is possible, even love." In a 1999 collection of poetry titled Things That Keep and Do Not Change, the author "shows her range and the authority of her voice in all its registers," according to Patricia Monaghan in Booklist. In addition to the title poem, which takes place on a fogbound day, the author writes about poets who do not follow an Eskimo recipe in "Do Not Make Loon Soup" and about a strange experience in a bar in the poem titled "Eight Days without You."

A decade and a half of the author's poems are included in What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems, 1970-1985. The collection, published in 2000, includes the seven previously published titles Songs of the Sea-Witch, Entrance of the Celebrant, Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, The Impstone, Becky Swan's Book, A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, and Cocktails at the Mausoleum.

In her 2000 novel, Cargo of Orchids, the author mixes black humor with tragedy to tell the story of a woman living on death row. As the narrator of the story, the woman recalls what brought her from working as a translator to her dependence on cocaine after falling in love with the son of a drug cartel leader to her conviction for killing her own child. Writing in Quill and Quire, Maureen Garvie noted that Cargo of Orchids "has everything her readers might expect from her: rich, lyrical language, bizarre imagery, and an intimate familiarity with the state-sanctioned indignities inflicted on prison inmates."

Musgrave has also served as editor of several books focusing on the thoughts and lives of women writers recalling things about their past. In You Be Me: Friendship in the Lives of Teen Girls, the women writers, as the title suggests, reflect on their teenage friendships, which, though cherished, were often fraught with difficulties. Some of the stories are humorous while others are poignant, such as one woman who reflects on the death of a friend. Lynne Remick, writing in Kliatt, commented that "this book presents gripping first-person essays that will enlighten and educate."

As editor of Nerves Out Loud: Critical Moments in the Lives of Seven Teen Girls, Musgrave presents seven short stories from women writers. "These stories are likely to be of interest to teen girls as they are quite gripping and the topics are exactly those about which successful Young Adult novels are written," noted Brenda Dillon in a review in Resource Links. In these stories, the writers reveal traumatic experiences from their youth, from rape to drug use. In her contribution, Musgrave looks back on her rebellious years in high school. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the stories are "told with compelling honesty and realism." T.L. Cowan, writing in Horizons, commented: "Most importantly perhaps, this book is about survival, retrospection and wisdom. The stories come from those ‘who have been there’ who now send a message to those ‘who are there.’"

Certain Things about My Mother: Daughters Speak, edited by Musgrave, features adult daughters recalling their relationships with their mothers when the writers were teenagers. In one story, a writer recalls her rebellious youth living in a tradition-bound Japanese household in Canada. Another features a young girl's fantasy about what kind of woman should replace the mother who has abandoned her. "These stories are about growing up, about the painful processes of mothers offering daughters roots and wings, and the delay many of us experienced in realizing the true nature of that process," wrote Donna K. Johnson Alden in Resource Links. Jane Halsall commented in the School Library Journal: "This collection features seven poignant and remarkably honest essays."

Musgrave also edited and contributed to Perfectly Secret: The Hidden Lives of Seven Teen Girls. In this book, young and emerging female writers reveal secrets they kept as teenagers. In her story, Musgrave tells of a friend's decision to plan a suicide. Among other topics are family alcoholism and a writer who, at a very young age, kept secrets her parents each told her individually from the other parent. "Each piece is sensitive, realistic, and well written," wrote Laurie von Mehren in the School Library Journal. Resource Links contributor Joanne de Groot commented that "the emotions and problems facing each author will be easy for any teenage reader to relate to."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 13, 1980; Volume 54, 1989.

Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, July, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs, p. 1952; February 1, 2000, Patricia Monaghan, review of Things That Keep and Do Not Change, p. 1005.

Books in Canada, April, 1979, review of A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, p. 10; December, 1980, review of The Charcoal Burners, p. 30; December, 1982, review of Tarts and Muggers: Poems, New and Selected, p. 22; October, 1985, review of Cocktails at the Mausoleum, p. 30; December, 1987, review of The Dancing Chicken, p. 19; January, 1990, review of Great Musgrave, p. 21; May, 1992, review of The Embalmer's Art: Poems, 1970-1991, p. 60.

Canadian Forum, August, 1974, review of Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, p. 42; October, 1976, review of The Impstone, p. 30; June, 1979, review of A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, p. 42.

Canadian Literature, autumn-winter, 1989, Patricia Demers, review of The Dancing Chicken, p. 184.

Cross-Canada Writers' Quarterly, Volume 8, number 2, 1986, Ed Jewinski, "WQ Interview with Susan Musgrave," pp. 3-5.

Horizons, summer, 2002, T.L. Cowan, review of Nerves Out Loud: Critical Moments in the Lives of Seven Teen Girls, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews, Sept 15, 2001, review of Nerves Out Loud, p. 1364.

Kliatt, March, 2003, Lynne Remick, review of You Be Me: Friendship in the Lives of Teen Girls, p. 42.

Maclean's, February 26, 1979, review of A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, p. 55; September 29, 1980, review of The Charcoal Burners, p. 58; December 15, 1980, Ann Johnston, review of Hag-Head, p. 52.

Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1999, review of Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs, p. 84.

Quill and Quire, December, 1980, review of The Charcoal Burners, p. 29; October, 1987, review of The Dancing Chicken, p. 22; November, 2000, Maureen Garvie, review of Cargo of Orchids, p. 30.

Resource Links, December, 1998, review of Dreams Are More Real than Bathtubs, 1998, p. 4; October, 2001, Brenda Dillon, review of Nerves Out Loud, p. 45; December, 2003, Donna K. Johnson Alden, review of Certain Things about My Mother: Daughters Speak, p. 46; December, 2004, Joanne de Groot, review of Perfectly Secret: The Hidden Lives of Seven Teen Girls, p. 45.

Saturday Night, January, 1974, review of Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, p. 34; November, 1979, review of A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury, p. 60; November, 1980, review of The Charcoal Burners, p. 73.

School Library Journal, March, 2004, Jane Halsall, review of Certain Things about My Mother, p. 240; December, 2004, Laurie von Mehren, review of Perfectly Secret, p. 166.

Times Literary Supplement, January 5, 1973, review of Entrance of the Celebrant, p. 10.


Susan Musgrave Home Page, (February 12, 2008).

University of Toronto, (February 12, 2008), biography of author.

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Musgrave, Susan 1951-

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