UNB's Literary Tradition - Fredericton
It might be argued that UNB’s literary tradition began in 1827, before King’s College, predecessor to UNB, had even opened. In that year Sir Howard Douglas, one of the University’s all-time greatest champions, established a prize to be awarded annually to the undergraduate student who writes the best prose or verse composition in Greek, Latin or English on any subject in the regular course of study.
Over the next 40 years, the practice of writing and composition became embedded in the curriculum. In 1867, the members of the Literary and Debating Society founded The University Monthly, a journal dedicated to “literature, science and general information.” Many students and alumni contributed. Two especially exceptional writers — cousins W. Bliss Carman (BA 1881) and Charles G.D. Roberts (BA 1879) — who would make their mark in the international literary world, were first published in The Monthly in the 1880s. They, along with alumnus Francis Joseph Sherman, are commemorated on the Poets Corner that stands in front of the Harriet Irving Library on the Fredericton campus.
But it was in the 20th century that UNB really came into its own as a literary powerhouse. Seminal to this was Alfred G. Bailey who graduated from UNB in 1927 and returned in 1938 as its first full-time professor of history. He was a man of eclectic talents who wrote poetry and was passionate about Canadian culture. In 1945 Dr. Bailey founded The Fiddlehead which has become Canada’s most respected (and longest lived) literary journal, eventually publishing the work of such notables as Margaret Atwood, Alden Nowlan, Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, Irving Layton, Michael Ondaatje, Joy Kogawa, Joyce Carol Oates, David Adams Richards, Carol Shields, George Elliott Clarke, Karen Connelly and Alistair MacLeod. The Fiddlehead also gave rise to Goose Lane Editions, one of Canada’s premier independent publishing houses.
About the same time, in 1944, the department of English hired W.C. Desmond Pacey as its chair. As a scholar, Dr. Pacey pioneered the study of Canadian literature and populated his department with faculty such as Fred Cogswell, Bob Gibbs, and Kent Thompson, who were both academically and creatively gifted, published authors who joined theory and practice in their teaching. In time, creative writing emerged as a concentration for both undergraduate and graduate students. A quick visit to the program's website demonstrates the considerable success of UNB alumni, who include such award-winning authors as Frances Itani, Wayne Johnston, Alistair MacLeod and Kwame Dawes.
Faculty who write continue to be the norm in the department of English, as evidenced in the novels of Mark Anthony Jarman, the plays of Len Falkenstein and the poetry of Ross Leckie, among others. Not to be outdone, for the past 15 years graduate students in the creative writing program have produced QWERTY, a literary journal for emerging and established writers that provides experience in the fields of editing, managing, publishing, web design, and advertising.
Supporting this creative milieu is UNB’s Writer-in-Residence, a position that began in 1969 with the appointment of distinguished poet, journalist and novelist Alden Nowlan. Following his untimely death in 1983, the appointment passed annually to a succession of esteemed writers, including Governor-General’s Award winners Don McKay and Karen Connelly, the prolific Douglas George Fetherling and the best-selling Catherine Bush.
In 1975, the department of English founded the Maritime Writers Workshop, a week-long summer program for writers of all ages to hone their skills and rub elbows with some of Canada’s most accomplished authors.
Oh, and the Sir Howard Douglas Gold Medal? It has been awarded to nearly 150 undergraduates since 1827, a number of whom have become literary giants in their own right, including poets Elizabeth Brewster and Fred Cogswell.
Read about UNB's literary tradition in Saint John.