by George J. Dance


Bust of Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, Gwendolyn MacEwen Park, Toronto. Photo by Maureen Dance. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Gwendolyn MacEwen
Born Gwendolyn Margaret MacEwen
September 1 1941(1941-Template:MONTHNUMBER-01)
Toronto, Ontario
Died November 29 1987(1987-Template:MONTHNUMBER-29) (aged 46)
Toronto, Ontario
Occupation Writer
Language English
Nationality Canada Canadian
Education High school dropout, autodidact
Notable award(s) Governor General's Award

Gwendolyn Margaret MacEwen (September 1, 1941 - November 28, 1987) was a Canadian poet and novelist.[1]



A "sophisticated, wide-ranging and thoughtful writer," she published more than 20 books in her brief life.[2] "A sense of magic and mystery from her own interests in the Gnosticism, ancient Egypt, and magic itself, and from her wonderment at life and death, makes her writing unique.... She's still regarded by most as one of the best Canadian poets."[3]

Youth and educationEdit

Bust and pedestal of Gwendolyn MacEwen

Gwendolyn MacEwen bust and pedestal, Gwendolyn MacEwen Park. Photo by Maureen Dance, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

MacEwen was born in Toronto, Ontario.[4][5] Her mother, Elsie, spent much of her life as a patient in mental health institutions. Her father, Alick, suffered from alcoholism.[6]

Gwendolyn MacEwen grew up in the High Park area of the city, and attended Western Technical-Commercial School.[7]

MacEwen was a prodigy. Her 1st poem was published in The Canadian Forum when she was only 17, and she left school at 18 to pursue a writing career.[4] By 18 she had written her 1st novel, Julian the Magician.[3]


"She was small (5'4") and slight, with a round pale face, huge blue eyes usually rimmed in kohl (Egyptian eye shadow), and long dark straight hair."[3]

Her debut collection of poetry, The Drunken Clock, was published in 1961.[2] She married poet Milton Acorn, 19 years her senior, in 1962,[6] although they divorced 2 years later.

She published over 20 books, in a variety of genres. She also wrote numerous radio docudramas for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), including a "much-admired radio drama", Terror and Erebus (on the lost 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin), in 1965.[8]

With her 2nd husband, Greek musician Niko Tsingos, MacEwen opened a Toronto coffeehouse, The Trojan Horse, in 1972. She and Tsingos translated some of the poetry of contemporary Greek writer Yiannis Ritsos (published in her 1981 book Trojan Women).[8]

She taught herself to read Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and French, translated writers from each of those languages.[8] In 1978 her translation of Euripides' drama The Trojan Women had its premiere performance in Toronto.[9]

She served as writer in residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1985, and the University of Toronto in 1986 and 1987.[4]

MacEwen died in 1987,[4] at the age of 46, of health problems related to alcoholism.[6] She is buried in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery.[10]


"A sophisticated, wide-ranging and thoughtful writer," says the Canadian Encyclopedia, MacEwen "displayed a commanding interest in magic and history as well as an elaborate and penetrating dexterity in her versecraft."[2]

Her 2 novels – Julian the Magician, dealing with the ambiguous relationship between the hermetic philosophies of the early Renaissance and Christianity; and King of Egypt, King of Dreams, which imaginatively reconstructed the life and religious reformation of Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton – blend fantasy and history.[8]


Sign, Gwendolyn MacEwen Park, Toronto, Ontario

Gwendolyn MacEwen Park, Toronto, Ontario. Photo by Maureen Dance, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

MacEwen won the Governor General's Award in 1969 for her poetry collection The Shadow Maker.[2] She was awarded a second Governor General's Award posthumously in 1987 for Afterworlds.[11]

Other awards and prizes MacEwen won include the CBC New Canadian Writing Contest for poetry in 1965; the A.J.M. Smith Poetry Award in 1973; the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award in 1983; the CBC Literary Competition, for short story, in 1983; and the Du Maurier Awards, gold and silver for poetry, in 1983.[12]

Her writing has been translated into many languages including Chinese, French, German, and Italian.[7]

Rosemary Sullivan published a biography of MacEwen, Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen, in 1995, which itself won the Governor General's Award, for non-fiction, in 1995.[4]

In popular cultureEdit

Fictional tributes to MacEwen have been published by Margaret Atwood (the short story "Isis in Darkness"), and Lorne S. Jones (the novel Mighty Oaks).

A 1-woman play by Linda Griffiths, Alien Creature: A visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen, won the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Chalmers Award in 2000.[13]

Gwendolyn MacEwen ParkEdit

Gwendolyn MacEwen Park
Location Walmer Rd at Lowther Ave, Toronto
Operated by Toronto Parks
The former Walmer Road Park, in The Annex neighbourhood of Toronto, was renamed Gwendolyn MacEwen Park in her honor in 1994.

On September 9, 2006, a bronze bust of MacEwen by her friend, sculptor John McCombe Reynolds, was unveiled in the park.[7]

The park had been a grassy traffic circle in the middle of Walmer Road at Lowther Avenue, but a $300,000 makeover in 2010, expanded the park and narrowed the surrounding roads.[14] The unique redesigned greenspace reopened on July 21, 2010; writer Claudia Dey read one of MacEwen's poems.[15]



  • Selah. Toronto: Aleph Press, 1961.
  • The Drunken Clock. Toronto: Aleph Press, 1961.
  • The Rising Fire. Toronto: Contact Press, 1963.
  • A Breakfast for Barbarians. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1966.
  • The Shadowmaker. Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.
  • The Armies of the Moon . Toronto: Macmillan, 1972.
  • Magic Animals: Selected poems old and new. Toronto: Macmillan, 1974
    • also published as Magic Animals: Selected poetry. Don Mills, ON: Stoddart, 1984.
  • The Fire-Eaters. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1976.
  • The T.E. Lawrence Poems. Oakville: Mosaic Press, 1982.
  • Earth-Light: Selected poetry, 1963-1982. Toronto: General Publishing, 1982.
  • The Man with Three Violins. Toronto: HMS Press, 1986.[5]
  • Afterworlds. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1987.


  • Terror and Erebus: A half hour verse play. Toronto: privately published, 1965.


  • Julian the Magician. Toronto: Macmillan, 1963; New York: Corinth, 1963; Toronto: Insomniac Press, 2004.
  • King of Egypt, King of Dreams. Toronto: Macmillan, 1971; Toronto: Insomniac Press, 2004.
  • Noman. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1972.

Short fictionEdit


  • Mermaids and Ikons: A Greek summer. Toronto: Anansi, 1978.


  • The Chocolate Moose (illustrated by Barry Zaid). Toronto: New Canada Press, 1979.
  • The Honey Drum: Seven tales from Arab lands. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1983.
  • Dragon Sandwiches (illustrated by Maureen Paxton). Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 1987.


  • Euripides, The Trojan Women: A play. Toronto: Playwrights Group, 1981.
  • Aristophanes. The Birds: A modern adaptation. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1983.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen (edited by Meaghan Strimas). Holstein, ON: Exile Editions, 2007.

Except where noted, bibliographic information courtesy of Brock University. [16]

Audio / videoEdit

Poem - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

Poem - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

Dark Pines Under Water - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

Dark Pines Under Water - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

A Breakfast for Barbarians - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

A Breakfast for Barbarians - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

Compass - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

Compass - by Gwendolyn MacEwen

See alsoEdit


  • Atwood, Margaret. 'MacEwen's Muse.' Canadian Literature 45 (1970): 24-32.
  • Barrett, Elizabeth. 'A Tour de Force.' Evidence 8 (1964): 140-143.
  • Jan Bartley. Invocations: the poetry and prose of Gwendolyn MacEwen. 1983)
  • Davey, Frank. 'Gwendolyn MacEwen: The Secret of Alchemy.' Open Letter (2nd series) 4 (1973): 5-23.
  • Di Michele, Mary. 'Gwendolyn MacEwen: 1941-1987.' Books in Canada 17.1 (1988): 6.
  • Gerry, Thomas M. 'Green Yet Free of Seasons: Gwendolyn MacEwen and the Mystical Tradition of Canadian Poetry.' Studies in Canadian Literature 16.2 (1991/1992): 147-161.
  • Gillam, Robyn. 'The Gaze of a Stranger: Gwendolyn MacEwen's Hieratic Eye.' Paragraph 13.2 (1991): 10-13.
  • Godfrey, Dave. 'Figments of a Northern Mind.' Tamarack Review 31 (1964): 90-91.
  • Harding Russell, Gillian. 'Gwendolyn MacEwen's 'The Nine Arcana of the Kings' as Creative Myth and Paradigm.' English Studies in Canada 15.2 (1988): 204-217.
  • Harding Russell, Gillian. 'Iconic Mythopoeia in MacEwen's The T.E. Lawrence Poems.' Studies in Canadian Literature 9.1 (1984): 95-107.
  • Helwig, Maggie. 'The Shadowmaker Confirmed the Poet in Me.' Catholic New Times 21.19 (1997): 13,14.
  • Kelly, M.T. 'Thoughts From a Friend (Profile of Gwendolyn MacEwen).' Canadian Woman Studies 9.2 (1988): 89.
  • Kemp, Penn. 'A Musing I Would Like to have Shared with Gwendolyn MacEwen'. Tessera 5 (1988): 49-57.
  • 'MacEwen Possessed a Talent that was Fragile, Precocious.' Globe and Mail (Metro Edition) 2 Dec 1987: A10, C5.
  • Marshall, Joyce. 'Remembering Gwendolyn MacEwen.' Brick 45 (1993): 61-65.
  • Marshall, Tom. 'Several Takes on Gwendolyn MacEwen.' Quarry 38.1 (1989): 76-83.
  • 'Obituary: Author.- Gwendolyn MacEwen. Quill and Quire 54.3 (1988): 62.
  • Potvin, Elisabeth. 'Gwendolyn MacEwen and Female Spiritual Desire.' Canadian Poetry 28 (1991): 18-39.
  • Purdy, Al. 'œDeath in the Family.' Saturday Night 103.5 (1988): 65-66.
  • Ringrose, Christopher. 'Vision Enveloped in Night.' Canadian Literature 53 (1972): 102-104.
  • Sowton, Ian. 'To Improvise an Eden.' Edge 2 (1964): 119-124.
  • Rosemary Sullivan. Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen. Toronto: Harper Collins, 1995.
  • Tsingos, Nikolas. 'Poems for Gwendolyn MacEwen.' Descant 24.4 (1993/ 1994): 41.
  • Warwick, Ellen D. 'To Seek a Single Symmetry.' Canadian Literature 71 (1976): 21-34.
  • Wilkinson, Shelagh. 'Gwendolyn MacEwen's Trojan Women: Old Myth into New Life.' Canadian Woman Studies 8.3 (1987): 81-83.
  • Wood, Brent. 'From The Rising Fire to Afterworlds: The Visionary Circle in the Poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen.' Canadian Poetry 47 (2000): 40-69.


  1. "Gwendolyn MacEwen," Web, Apr. 24, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "MacEwen, Gwendolyn," Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 1264. Print.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 John Oughton, "Gwendolyn MacEwen," Young Soul Rebels,, Web, Apr. 24, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 ""Gwendolyn MacEwen: Biography", Canadian Poetry Online, Web, Apr. 23, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Gwendolyn MacEwen," Canadian Women Poets,, Web, Apr. 22, 2001.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Gwendolyn MacEwen: Comments by Writers and Critics," Canadian Poetry Online, Web, Apr. 24, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "The Gwendolyn MacEwen Park Memorial". The family of the late poet Gwendolyn MacEwen would like to announce the unveiling scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 9, 2006. Retrieved March 2012. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 George Woodcock & Rosemary Sullivan, " Gwendolyn MacEwen Biography," Encyclopedia of Literature, 8264,, Web, Apr. 24, 2011.
  9. Michaela Milde, Review of Euripides' Trojan Women, Didaskalia I:1, Web, Apr. 22, 2011.
  10. "Our Poets at Rest: Gwendolyn MacEwen," Arc, Nov. 15, 2010, Web, Apr. 22, 2011.
  12. "Gendolyn MacEwen: Awards and Honours," Canadian Poetry Online, Apr. 24, 2011.
  13. "Alien Creature: A visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen,", Web, Apr. 24, 2011.
  14. Bert Archer, "$300,000 makes Gwendolyn MacEwan Park bigger, less round, Development News, Yonge Street Media, July 28, 2010, Web, Mar. 2012.
  15. "Claudia Dey reads at the re-opening of Gwendolyn MacEwen Park, Coach House Books, Web, Mar. 2012
  16. 16.0 16.1 Search results = au:Gwendolyn MacEwen, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Center Inc. Web, Nov. 23, 2014.

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