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Mark Abley

Photo: Tedd Church

Mark Abley is a poet, journalist, non-fiction writer and editor. 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 short-listed in the category of international reporting. During those years he also wrote two books of poetry and a book for young children, and edited a book of oral history. In 2003 he returned to freelance writing. His non-fiction book Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages became a bestseller in the UK and was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese. It was shortlisted for the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal. His third poetry collection, The Silver Palace Restaurant, appeared in 2005 and, like its two predecessors, was short-listed 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 (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, and in 2011 he edited The City We Share, an outgrowth of his work in Pointe Claire as the first English-language writer-in-residence in any municipality on Montreal island. Since 2009 he has worked as a part-time acquisition editor for McGill-Queen's University Press.

His most recent non-fiction book is Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (2013), a work of creative non-fiction about the man who was both a superb 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 The Tongues of Earth: New and Selected Poems.

Mark has given readings in many Canadian cities and festivals, as well as universities in Britain and the United States. He has led several 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 Non-Fiction 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 in Catalonia. He is now working on a memoir of his father (a musician afflicted by lifelong depression) and a commissioned book from Simon & Schuster Canada about idioms, metaphors and cliches.

Phone number:
c/o Writers' Union of Canada


Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. Toronto: Random House of Canada, 2003.
Ghost Cat. Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2001.
Stories From the Ice Storm. (ed.) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999.
Glasburyon. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press, 1994.
Blue Sand, Blue Moon. Dunvegan, Ontario: Cormorant, 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, 2008
Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. Douglas & McIntyre, 2013
The Tongues of Earth: New and Selected Poems. Coteau, 2015


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 :


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