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Mark Abley

Photo: Tedd Church

Mark Abley is best-known as a nonfiction writer and poet. Born in 1955 in England, he grew up mostly in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Between 1975 and 1978 he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. In his early freelance career he became a contributing editor of Maclean's and Saturday Night, as well as a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, CBC Radio's Ideas, and the Canadian Forum. His first book was a work of literary travel, Beyond Forget: Rediscovering the Prairies (Douglas & McIntyre, 1986).

Between 1987 and 2003 he worked at the Montreal Gazette as a feature writer, book-review editor and literary columnist. He won a National Newspaper Award for critical writing, and was shortlisted for international reporting. In 2003 he returned to freelance writing. His nonfiction book Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (Random House of Canada) became a bestseller in the UK; it has been translated into French, Spanish, Japanese and Latvian. Spoken Here was shortlisted for the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal. Mark's third poetry collection, The Silver Palace Restaurant, appeared in 2005 and, like its two predecessors, was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers' Federation poetry prize.

In 2005 Mark was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to research a book on language change and the future. That research led to The Prodigal Tongue: Despatches From the Future of English (Random House of Canada, 2008). Like Spoken Here, it was published simultaneously in Canada, the US and the UK. In 2009 Mark wrote Camp Fossil Eyes, a children's book about language change. Between 2009 and 2020 he worked part-time as an acquisition editor for McGill-Queen's University Press.

In 2013 Mark wrote a work of creative nonfiction, Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (Douglas & McIntyre), an unconventional portrait of a man who was both a gifted poet and, as Deputy Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, the architect and engineer of savagely repressive policies against Indigenous people. In 2015 Coteau Books published Mark's Tongues of Earth: New and Selected Poems. He wrote a language column for the Montreal Gazette between 2006 and 2017, and in 2018 produced a commissioned book about English-language idioms, Watch Your Tongue (Simon & Schuster).

Mark has given readings in seven Canadian provinces, as well as universities in Britain and the United States. He has led workshops for the Quebec Writers' Federation and the Maritime Writers Workshop, and at the Banff Centre he has worked as both an editor in the Creative Nonfiction program and a workshop leader in Writing With Style. In 2009 he became the first Canadian writer to receive the LiberPress Prize for international authors, awarded annually in Catalonia. His most recent and most personal book, The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind (University of Regina Press, 2019), is a memoir of his father; it was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers' Federation nonfiction prize and was named by BBC Music as one of the top ten classical music books of the year.

Mark is now working on a new nonfiction book.


Phone number:
c/o Writers' Union of Canada


Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. Random House of Canada, 2003
Ghost Cat. Groundwood Books, 2001
Stories From the Ice Storm (ed.). McClelland & Stewart, 1999
Glasburyon. Quarry Press, 1994
Blue Sand, Blue Moon. Cormorant Books, 1988
The Silver Palace Restaurant. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005
Beyond Forget: Rediscovering the Prairies. Douglas & McIntyre, 1986
Camp Fossil Eyes. Annick, 2009
The Prodigal Tongue: Despatches From the Future of English. Random House of Canada, 2008
Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. Douglas & McIntyre, 2013
The Tongues of Earth: New and Selected Poems. Coteau Press, 2015
Watch Your Tongue: What Our Everyday Sayings and Idioms Figuratively Mean. Simon and Schuster Canada, 2018
The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind. University of Regina Press, 2019


Shortlisted, Pearson Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction for Spoken Here, 2004
Shortlisted, Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal for Spoken Here, 2003
Torgi Prize for children's fiction for Ghost Cat, 2002
National Newspaper Award, critical writing for Montreal Gazette, 1996
Shortlisted, National Newspaper Award, international reporting for Montreal Gazette, 1992.
Guggenheim Fellowship, 2004
LiberPress Prize, 2009
Eligible for National Public Readings Program :


Northern OAC WITS:
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