Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Who (BW)

This biographical information has been compiled primarily from her essays and speeches and from the works of people who knew her, including Dennis Lee’s “Acts of Dwelling, Acts of Love” (Body Music*) and Janice Williamson’s interview “I couldn’t separate the landscape from how I see my poems moving” (Sounding Differences**).

“Bronwen spent all but eight years of her life in Kingston. Her mother’s family was United Empire Loyalist; her father’s had lived on the same farm for almost two hundred years.”
Dennis Lee

“…I grew up around rural people and working-class people who tell stories.”
J. Williamson Interview

“I was raised as a Protestant, so I don’t understand the Catholic confessional as institution, but when we tell people intimate things about ourselves we are in some way asking for, if not absolution, at least support, inclusion, something, a healing gesture from the other person.”
J. Williamson Interview

“I remember when I first read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook… a couple of years after the novel first came out in 1963; I was a university student at the time, with classes to attend and essays to write. But what I did was read that novel – all 600-odd pages of it – in a day and a half, stopping only to grab a sandwich or a glass of milk, mesmerized by the fact that my own thoughts and feelings were suddenly there, larger-than-life-size in the writing of a woman whose upbringing and experience had been very different from mine and who was still able to show me certain aspects of my own life as if she herself had lived it. A woman who was able, moreover, to teach me certain things about my life which I had been unable to learn simply by living it…”
“Finding Some Unsuspected Truths in Fiction”

“In 1967 I attended my first women’s meeting…and that led me to a number of activities, ranging from disrupting the House of Commons in May 1970 over the issue of abortion legislation, to helping to found what is now Queen’s Co-op Daycare.”
“The Cuban Missile Crisis and Me”

“So when I first started to write, I wrote bad T.S. Eliot. Then in 1970 I quit school and hitchhiked around Canada. I was in a Vancouver bookstore and found a copy of [Al Purdy’s] The Cariboo Horses. I remember reading ‘the Country North of Belleville,’ and … I remember I was actually crying, because it never occurred to me that it was possible and OK to write about those people in that kind of language.”
J. Williamson Interview

“I am crying like an idiot, right there in the store, getting the book all wet, so that I have to buy it… Maudlin, of course. Sentimental as hell. I can her my old English profs sniffing as they read this.”
“Lilacs in May: A Tribute to Al Purdy”

“When I’m writing my column [on feminism in the Whig Standard] or doing public education [as a member of the Kingston Coordinating Committee against Domestic Assault on women], those are the arguments I have with others, the places where I take a certain position and I’m rhetorical and persuasive.”
J. Williamson Interview

“My sense of being involved in an extended communal conversation grows weekly as readers respond to what I say and I incorporate their ideas into my next piece and they have something to say about that….”
“Reader Response Makes the ‘Isolated’ Writer Feel Integral to Community”

“I’m creating a persona in Stubborn Particulars, a persona who is the best or bravest part of me. She does the talking and has more courage to explore things than I probably do in my everyday self.”
J. Williamson Interview

“When I think of the reader, she or he is not on this side of the poem while I’m on the other side. The reader stands beside me, and we’re reading the poem together.”  J. Williamson Interview

“When we look at what we’re up against in global terms, it sometimes seems impossible that anything can change. And yet one of the reasons we are all here today [at the keynote speech for International Women’s Week in Kingston 1989] is that we know, as individual women, in our own particular lives, that change is possible – individual change and collective change.”
“Coda: Blueprints for a Larger Life”

“Seven years ago a woman who had been my closest friend for a number of years died of cancer at thirty-three. […]We spent all of the available time we could together, and I took care of her during the last three weeks of her life. I learned an awful lot about living from her, but I also learned what I would call a feminist way of dying.”  J. Williamson Interview

External Sources:
* Dennis Lee, Body Music (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1998).
** Janice Williamson, Sounding Differences: Seventeen Conversations with Canadian Writers (TO: University of Toronto Press, 1993).


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