When Margaret Laurence died on January 5, 1987, she had published sixteen books-- five African books based on Somalia, Ghana, and Nigeria; five Manawaka novels modeled after her childhood hometown of Neepawa and other prairie towns; four children's books; one book of essays; and a memoir--besides innumerable poems; addresses; and articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Margaret Laurence was writer-in-residence at four universities. She was presented with the Governor- General's Award in 1967 and again in 1975. In 1971, she received the highest award available to a citizen when she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. From 1981-1983, she was Chancellor of Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario. Interim chairman of the committee set up to found the Writers' Union of Canada, Laurence received eleven honorary degrees between 1970-1981 and refused many others. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.
Laurence had roots in Canada and its Scottish tradition for her paternal forebears came from Fife and Edinburgh and her Scots-Irish maternal great-grandparents came to Canada from Country Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Robert Wemyss, a partner in his father's law firm in Neepawa, married Verna Simpson in 1922. Jean Margaret Wemyss, their daughter, was born on July 18, 1926. When she was four, her mother died. Her mother's sister, a teacher of English, became Laurence's stepmother. With her, Margaret Laurence began her literary career. They read many books and talked, especially about Canadian literature, long before it was a subject taught in Canadian universities and schools. "Peggy" and her friends made up "let's pretend" games; she wrote many stories in her notebooks. Conscious of her vocation to be a writer since she was fourteen, Margaret was editor of the high-school yearbook, Black and Gold. Of her contributions to Vox at United College in 1944, a line in one poem presented the author's own sensibly perceived experience of "A world which gave me my own lifework to do." She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Honors English in 1947 and became a journalist for the Winnipeg Citizen. In 1948, she married Jack Laurence, an engineer.