Mark Abley

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Mark Abley (born 13 May 1955) is a Canadian poet, journalist, editor and non-fiction writer. His latest book of non-fiction is Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott, published in November 2013.

Early life

Born in Warwickshire, England, he moved to Canada as a small boy and grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.[1] He attended the University of Saskatchewan from which he won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1975. He won prizes for his poetry while a student at St John's College, Oxford, and began to write full-time after moving to Toronto in 1978. He has been a contributing editor of both Maclean's and Saturday Night magazines, and a regular contributor to The Times Literary Supplement. In 1996 he won Canada's National Newspaper Award for critical writing.


Since 1983 Abley has lived in the Montreal area. For sixteen years he worked as a feature writer and book-review editor at the Montreal Gazette. He returned to freelance writing in 2003, though he continued to write the "Watchwords" columns on language issues for the Gazette. In 2009 he joined McGill-Queen's University Press as a part-time acquisition editor. He became the first-ever writer-in-residence for the city of Pointe-Claire in 2010-11.

He has written four books of poetry, two children's books, and several books of non-fiction. The best-known is Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (2003),[2] in which Abley showcases people and cultures whose languages are at risk of vanishing in an era of globalization. Abley poses and answers the question: why should we care that thousands of languages are at risk? Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages was short-listed for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal and the Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize. It was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese, is now being translated into Latvian, and was largely responsible for Abley being awarded the LiberPress Prize for international authors in Girona, Spain, in October 2009.

Abley has given lectures at Oxford University, Cambridge University, Ohio State University, McGill University, the University of Toronto and elsewhere. He delivered the annual Priestly Lecture at the University of Lethbridge.

In 2005 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship[citation needed] for research into language change. His book The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English appeared in May 2008. It was praised as "fascinating" in The Times (London), and hailed by William Safire in The New York Times. In August 2009 Abley published a children's book about words and their origins, Camp Fossil Eyes. He also wrote the text of a picture book for young children, Ghost Cat.

Abley has edited several books, including When Earth Leaps Up and A Woman Clothed in Words by Anne Szumigalski; he was Szumigalski's literary executor. Over the years he has led workshops for the Quebec Writers' Federation, the Maritime Writers' Workshop and the Banff Centre for the Arts.

In 2010 Abley began to research the complex legacy of a troubling figure from the Canadian past, Duncan Campbell Scott, a poet who ran the Department of Indian Affairs for many years and is sometimes accused of cultural genocide. The result is a book of creative nonfiction entitled Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. It appeared in November 2013 and won high praise from reviewers.

In 2015 Coteau Books published "The Tongues of Earth," a volume of his new and selected poems. It made an implicit claim for Abley's status not only as a prose writer but as a poet too. In 2016 it was shortlisted for the Fred Cogswell Award for literary excellence.

Abley is now at work on a new book about idioms and cliches, to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2018, and a memoir, to be published by the University of Regina Press in 2019.

Selected bibliography

  • 1986: Beyond Forget: Rediscovering the Prairies (literary travel)
  • 1988: Blue Sand, Blue Moon (poetry)
  • 1994: Glasburyon (poetry)
  • 2001: Ghost Cat (children's book)
  • 2003: Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (literary travel, cultural analysis)
  • 2005: The Silver Palace Restaurant (poetry)
  • 2008: The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches From the Future of English (analysis of language change and its implications)
  • 2009: Camp Fossil Eyes: Digging for the Origins of Words (children's book)
  • 2013: Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (cultural and literary history)
  • 2015: The Tongues of Earth: New and Selected Poems (poetry)


  1. ^ "Member Profile: Mark Abley". The Writer’s Union of Canada. The Writer’s Union of Canada. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  2. ^ Abley, Mark. "Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 

External links

  • Official website
  • 'Stop/Arrete', review of Spoken Here in the Oxonian Review

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