Alden Nowlan was born into rural poverty in Stanley, Nova Scotia, adjacent to Mosherville, and close to the small town of Windsor, Nova Scotia, along a stretch of dirt road that he would later refer to as Desolation Creek. His father, Gordon Freeman Nowlan, worked sporadically as a manual labourer.
His mother, Grace Reese, was only 15 years of age when Nowlan was born, and she soon left the family, leaving Alden and her younger daughter Harriet to the care of their paternal grandmother. The family discouraged education as a waste of time, and Nowlan left school after only four grades. At the age of 14, he went to work in the village sawmill. At the age of 16, Nowlan discovered the regional library. Each weekend he would walk or hitchhike eighteen miles to the library to get books, and secretly began to educate himself. "I wrote (as I read) in secret." Nowlan remembered. "My father would as soon have seen me wear lipstick."
Career & Later Life
At 19, Nowlan's artfully embroidered résumé landed him a job with Observer, a newspaper in Hartland, New Brunswick. While working at the Observer, Nowlan began writing books of poetry, the first of which was published by Fredericton's Fiddlehead Poetry Books.
Nowlan eventually settled permanently in New Brunswick. In 1963, he married Claudine Orser, a typesetter on his former paper, and moved to Saint John with her and her son, John, whom he adopted. He became the night editor for the Saint John Telegraph Journal and continued to write poetry. In 1967, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his collection Bread, Wine and Salt was awarded the Governor General's Award for Poetry.
In 1966, Nowlan was diagnosed with throat cancer. His health forced him to give up his job, but at the same time the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton offered him the position of Writer-in-Residence. He remained in the position until his death on June 27, 1983.
Awards and recognition
Nowlan's most notable literary achievements include the Governor General's Award for Bread, Wine and Salt (1967) and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He took over the job Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton from close friend Warren Kinthompson in 1968 and kept it until his death in 1983. He has a provincial poetry award named in his honour.
Nowlan is one of Canada's most popular 20th-century poets, and his appearance in the anthology Staying Alive (2002) has helped to spread his popularity beyond Canada.
In the 1970s, Nowlan met and became close friends with theatre director Walter Learning. The two collaborated on a number of plays, including A Gift to Last, Frankenstein, The Dollar Woman, and The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca.
Nowlan's Fredericton home is now the residence of the Graduate Student Association at the University of New Brunswick. Dubbed "Windsor Castle" by Nowlan after its location on Windsor Street, the simple building is now officially called the Alden Nowlan House.
Nowlan is buried in the Poets' Corner of the Forest Hill cemetery in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
- A Darkness is Earth. Eureka, California: Hearse, 1958.
- The Rose is not the Puritan. Fredericton, N.B.: University of New Brunswick, 1958.
- Wind and A Rocky Country. Toronto: Emblem, 1960.
- Under then Ice. Toronto: Ryerson, 1961.
- Five New Brunswick Poets. Fredericton, N.B.: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1962. (with Elizabeth Brewster, Fred Cogswell, Robert Gibbs and Kay Smith)
- The Things Which Are. Toronto: Contact, 1962.
- Bread, Wine and Salt. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1967.
- A Black Plastic Button and a Yellow Yoyo, handmade limited edition folio of 20 copies, printed and illustrated by Charles Pachter, Toronto 1968
- The Mysterious Naked Man. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1969.
- Playing the Jesus Game: Selected Poems. Trumansburg, N.Y.: New/Books, 1970.
- Between Tears and Laughter. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1971.
- I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1974.
- Shaped by This Land. Fredericton: Brunswick, 1974.
- Smoked Glass. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1977.
- I Might Not Tell Everybody This. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1982.
- Early Poems. Fredericton, N.B.: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1983.
- An Exchange of Gifts: Poems New and Selected". Toronto: Irwin, 1985.
- What Happened When He Went to the Store for Bread. Minneapolis: Nineties Press, 1993.
- The Best of Alden Nowlan. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot, 1993.
- Alden Nowlan: Selected Poems. Toronto: House of Anansi, 1996.
- Between Tears and Laughter Tarset, Northumberland, U.K.: Bloodaxe, 2004. ISBN 1-85224-629-4
- The Execution, Sunburst, Scarborough, Ontario, 1982
- Helen's Scar
- The Bull Moose
- I, Icarus
- Miracle at Indian River. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1968.
- Various Persons Named Kevin O’Brien. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1973.
- The Invisible Boy. Hansport: Lancelot, 1983.
- Will Ye Let the Mummers In. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
- The Wanton Troopers. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1988.
- The Glass Roses*
- Frankenstein: The Man Who Became God - Clarke, Irwin, Toronto 1973 (with Walter Learning)
- The Dollar Woman - Playwrights Co-op, Toronto 1981 (with Walter Learning)
- The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca - Dramatic Publishing, 1978 (with Walter Learning)
- A Gift to Last (with Walter Learning) from the teleplay by Gordon Pinsent
- Gardens of the Wind - (CBC radio broadcast) Saskatoon: Thistledown, 1982.
- Campobello: The Outer Island. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1975.
- Double Exposure. Fredericton, N.B.: Brunswick Press, 1978.
- Nine Micmac Legends. Hantsport, N.S.: Lancelot, 1983.
- White Madness. Ottawa: Oberon, 1996.
- Road Dancers. Ottawa: Oberon, 1999.
- 15 Canadian Poets X3, ed. Gary Geddes (Oxford University Press, 2001)
- Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada, ed. Anne Compton, Laurence Hutchman, Ross Leckie and Robin McGrath (Goose Lane Editions, 2002)
- New, W. H., ed. The Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. p. 835-837.
- Williamson, Margie. Four Maritime Poets: a survey of the works of Alden Nowlan, Fred Cogswell, Raymond Fraser and Al Pittman, as they reflect the spirit and culture of the Maritime people. Thesis (M.A.), Dalhousie University, 1973 [microform].
- Raymond Fraser. When The Earth Was Flat: Remembering Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, the Flat Earth Society, the King James monarchy hoax, the Montreal Story Tellers and other curious matters. 2007. (ISBN 978-0-88753-439-3)
- Patrick Toner. If I Could Turn and Meet Myself: The Life of Alden Nowlan Goose Lane Editions, 2000. (ISBN 978-0-86492-265-6)
- Gregory M. Cook. One Heart, One Way: Alden Nowlan, A Writer's Life Pottersfield Press, 2003. (ISBN 1-895900-59-X)
- Alden Nowlan: Essays on His Works Guernica Editions, 2006.(ISBN 978-1-55071-234-6)
- Alden Nowlan and Class by Thomas R. Smith
- The Alden Nowlan Interviews
- The Canadian Encyclopedia entry by Douglas Fetherling
- Alden Nowlan and Class by Thomas R. Smith