About Anne

Anne was born in London, England, on January 3, 1922, the third child of a large and somewhat eccentric family. She grew up in a village in Hampshire, and was educated privately. She went by the name "Nancy Davis," or on more formal occasions, "Anne Howard Davis."

Between 1939 and 1944 she worked as a nursing assistant and interpreter at a hospital for Belgian refugees at Morland Hall, Hampshire. After the D-Day landings she travelled into Holland and Germany with the British Red Cross, and when the war was over, she joined the military government in Germany as a welfare officer and interpreter for prisoners-of-war and displaced persons. In 1946 she married Jan Szumigalski, a former prisoner-of-war who had served as an officer in the Polish Army. They would have four children: Kate (born 1946), Elizabeth (1947), Tony (1961) and Mark (1963). Anne Szumigalski

Between 1948 and 1950 Anne lived with her new family on a farm in north Wales. They immigrated to Canada in 1951, living first in Saskatoon, then in small towns in the Big Muddy Valley of southern Saskatchewan, and finally (from 1956 on) back in Saskatoon. Her husband worked as a surveyor; he died in 1985. 

Anne wrote copious amounts of poetry as a girl and young woman in England. But in Canada, she at first fell silent. When she began to write again, in the 1950s, she did so in isolation, knowing no other writers and having no sense of an artistic community on the prairies. The urge to create such a community, and the delight at being part of one, would play a central role in her career. 

Her first published poems appeared in Canadian magazines in the early 1960s. Later in that decade, she began to gather a group of like-minded poets who would meet and discuss their work, often in her small home. The "Saskatoon Poets' Group," as it was initially known, would go through various incarnations over the ensuing decades. Though Anne was an extremely intelligent and well-read woman, she did not have a university degree and (except for a few personal friendships) had little to do with the University of Saskatchewan's English Department.

Anne Szumaglaski by window in Saskatoon Her first book, Woman Reading in Bath, appeared from Doubleday in New York in 1974. Thereafter Anne chose to publish all her books with prairie presses: Turnstone, Red Deer College, Hagios, Fifth House and (especially) Coteau. Her accent and some of her mannerisms remained English, yet she thought of herself as a "prairie poet" first and foremost. She served as writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library in 1980-1, and at the Winnipeg Public Library in 1987-8.

Anne was a founder of the Saskatchewan Writers' Guild, of the Saskatchewan Writers and Artists Colonies, of the AKA Gallery, and of the Saskatoon Moving Collective. For more than a decade, she taught poetry-writing at the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts. In 1988 she was named Woman of the Year by the Saskatoon YMCA; in 1989 she received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit; and in 1990 she won the Saskatchewan Arts Board Award for lifetime excellence in the arts. She received life memberships from the League of Canadian Poets and ACTRA, and was given a Canada 125 medal in 1993.

She was nominated three times for the Governor-General's Award, a prize she finally won in 1995 for her collection Voice. She also received two Writers' Choice Awards, and was twice a silver medalist at the National Magazine Awards. In 1997 Coteau published On Glassy Wings: Poems New and Selected, which at more than 220 pages remains the best single introduction to her work. Prairie Fire and Arc magazines both devoted special issues to her work.

Anne helped to found Grain magazine in 1972, and was an editor there for nine years. She later served as poetry editor of NeWest Review, and she edited or co-edited about 20 books. Of course she is best-known for her own writing: 15 books in all. Her work appeared in more than 30 anthologies during her lifetime (and others since).

One of her great pleasures in life was to collaborate with other artists. She wrote pieces for dance (and performed in them); she also joined her talents with those of a percussion ensemble, a theatre company, a Catalan translator, a Dutch translator and a United Church minister of somewhat unorthodox views, as well as several painters and writers. The most significant collaborations were probably those with an artist (Elyse St. George) and a writer (Terrence Heath: four long poems for radio, and one co-written book).

Anne Szumigalski died in 1999, leaving her papers in some disarray. She had made a substantial donation of papers to the University of Regina in 1991, and the present collection is a supplement to those papers, not a replacement. Her literary executor, Mark Abley, has edited a book of her posthumous poems (When Earth Leaps Up, Brick, 2006) and a book of her miscellaneous writings (A Woman Clothed in Words, forthcoming from Coteau in 2010).

 

-- Mark Abley