Irving Layton (BBHS ’33)

Layton published his first poems in the Journal First Statement, which ran from 1942 until 1945. Layton’s poems are known for being candid and colorful, often critiquing Bourgeoisie culture. Some of his famous works include Berry Picking, The Birth of the Tragedy, and The Cold Green Element. By the mid 50s, Layton was more prolific than at any other time in his career, sometimes publishing two books in the same year and winning a Canada Council grant in 1957 for The Improved Binoculars. In 1959 McClelland & Stewart published Layton’s A Red Carpet for the Sun, for which he became the first winner of the newly created Governor General’s Award. It was also in 1959 that Layton won the Canada Council’s prestigious Senior Arts Fellowship. The fellowship enabled him to travel abroad and write, which he would continue to do for years to come. In 1976 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was the first non-Italian to be awarded the Petrarch Award for Poetry. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1981. In Waiting for the Messiah, first published in 1985, Layton writes openly about his life and the discordant impulses that shaped him into the provocative poet and personality that he became. Two chapters cover his years at BBHS (see below). For a complete listing of his prolific body of work comprising over 50 publications click here to link to his official website or visit Canadian Poetry Online. The Irving Layton Collection at the University of Saskatchewan offers a fascinating look at the books in his personal library.

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Irving Layton, 1956

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Irving Layton, 1959

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Irving Layton, 1985

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