I was introduced to Margaret Laurence by way of The Stone Angel, in high school English class. I don’t remember much of the related schoolwork, but I do remember my teacher telling us that she had died, recently. He seemed uncomfortable when he spoke about it (mentioning her cancer but suggesting there was more to it than that). I couldn’t tell for sure if she had mattered to him particularly, because he often seemed uneasy, arms and legs too long for his body, his shoulders bent forward as though the rest of him could never keep up, but I don’t remember another teacher talking about an author having died, certainly not an author of our time.
I do remember a teacher telling our class how sad she was that Elvis had died (I was in grade three) but this wasn’t the kind of thing that teachers talked about up close and the authors of the books we read in English were usually so long gone that they didn’t feel real. I knew that writers were just “normal people” (Jean Little had been to our school and gave a talk, and my mom took me to talks by Lyn Cook and Claire McKay), but this was the first time that I realized I had been studying a book in school by a writer who was living and now was not, whose books were still being read.
A few years later I came across A Jest of God at the library and read it in one fierce session, and then I sought out The Diviners. I finished it on the bus to work on a summer morning, passed my stop to finish reading, which I was glad of for the chance to catch hold of my weeping on the walk back. I wanted to tell someone about it at work, but there wasn’t anybody to tell, although I carried the book with me on my lunch and breaks anyway. I never did tell anyone about that, but I felt that something snapped into place that day; I’m not entirely sure what it was, but it’s still there, as fresh as it was on that summer morning.