Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born Jean Margaret Wemyss in Neepawa , Manitoba, Laurence was the daughter of solicitor Robert Wemyss and Verna Simpson Wemyss. Verna died when Laurence was four and Margaret Simpson, maternal aunt, came to take care of the family. A year later, Simpson married Robert Wemyss and, in 1933, gave birth to son Robert. In 1935, Robert Wemyss Sr. died of pneumonia.
In 1944, Laurence attended Winnipeg's United College on scholarship, pursuing an honours English degree. She wrote for the student newspaper and became involved with the "Old Left" socialist reform group. She graduated in 1947, working a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen , where she wrote book reviews, a daily radio column and covered labour issues.
Following her graduation from United College, she married John Fergus Laurence, an engineer. His job took them to England (1949), the then-British protectorate of Somaliland (1950–1952) and Ghana (1952–1957), and Laurence's great admiration for Africa and the African peoples can be seen in her writing.
In 1952, Laurence gave birth to daughter Jocelyn during a leave in England. Son David was born in 1955 in Gold Coast. The family left the Gold Coast just before it gained independence as Ghana in 1957, moving to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they stayed for five years.
In 1962, she separated from her husband and moved to London, England for a year. She then moved to Elm Cottage, staying there for more than 10 years, although she visited Canada often. Her divorce became final in 1969. That year, she became writer in residence at the University of Toronto. A few years later, she moved to Lakefield, Ontario. She also bought a cabin on the Otonabee River near Peterborough, where she wrote The Diviners during the summers of 1971 to 1973.
Laurence's first novel, This Side Jordan (1960), set in the Gold Coast prior to Ghana's independence, received critical acclaim. She followed it up with several other works dealing with life in West Africa, both from a Western and an African viewpoint. Her second and subsequent novels shifted location to Canada. In 1967 she won the Governor-General's Award for her novel A Jest of God (1966). In 1972 Laurence was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
- A Tree for Poverty (1954) is an anthology of Somali poetry and folk stories
- This Side Jordan (1960)
- The Tomorrow-Tamer (1963) is a collection of ten short stories set in West Africa
- The Prophet's Camel Bell (1963) is a non-fiction account of Laurence's life in Somaliland
- The Stone Angel (1964) is set in Manawaka, Ontario. ISBN 0226469360
- A Jest of God (1966) was also set in Manawaka. It won the Governor-General's Award in 1967. The book was made into the 1968 movie Rachel, Rachel, starring Joanne Woodward.
- The Fire-Dwellers (1969)
- Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952-1966 (1968)
- A Bird in the House (1970) is another collection of short stories
- Jason's Quest (1970)
- The Diviners (1974)
- Heart of a Stranger (1976)
- The Olden Days Coat (1979)
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