Mark Abley (born 13 May 1955) is a Canadian poet, journalist, editor and non-fiction writer. His latest book is Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott, to be published in November 2013.
Born in Warwickshire, England, he moved to Canada as a small boy and grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He attended the University of Saskatchewan from which he won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1975. He won prizes for his poetry while a student at St John's College, Oxford, and began to write full-time after moving to Toronto in 1978. He has been a contributing editor of both Maclean's and Saturday Night magazines, and a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement. In 1996 he won Canada's National Newspaper Award for critical writing.
Since 1983 Abley has lived in the Montreal area. For sixteen years he worked as a feature writer and book-review editor at the Montreal Gazette. He returned to freelance writing in 2003, though he continues to write columns on language issues for the Gazette. In 2009 he joined McGill-Queen's University Press as a part-time acquisition editor. He became the first-ever writer-in-residence for the city of Pointe-Claire in 2010-11.
He has written three books of poetry, two children's books, and several books of non-fiction. The best-known is probably Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (2003), which was short-listed for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montreal and the Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize. It was translated into French, Spanish and Japanese, and was largely responsible for Abley being awarded the LiberPress Prize in Girona, Spain, in October 2009. He has also given lectures at Oxford University, Cambridge University, Ohio State University and elsewhere.
In 2005 Abley was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for research into language change. His book The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English appeared in May 2008. It was praised as "fascinating" in The Times (London), and hailed by William Safire in The New York Times. In August 2009 Abley published a children's book about words and their origins, Camp Fossil Eyes.
Abley has edited several books, including When Earth Leaps Up and A Woman Clothed in Words by Anne Szumigalski; he is Szumigalski's literary executor. Over the years he has led workshops for the Quebec Writers' Federation, the Maritime Writers' Workshop and the Banff Centre for the Arts.
In 2010 Abley began to research the complex legacy of a troubling figure from the Canadian past, Duncan Campbell Scott, a poet who ran the Department of Indian Affairs for many years and is sometimes accused of cultural genocide. The result is a book of creative nonfiction entitled Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. It will appear in November 2013.
- Beyond Forget: Rediscovering the Prairies (literary travel), 1986.
- Blue Sand, Blue Moon (poetry), 1988.
- Glasburyon (poetry), 1994.
- Ghost Cat (children's book), 2001.
- Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages (literary travel, cultural polemic), 2003.
- The Silver Palace Restaurant (poetry), 2005.
- The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches From the Future of English (analysis of language change and its implications), 2008.
- Camp Fossil Eyes: Digging for the Origins of Words (children's book), 2009.
- Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott (creative nonfiction), 2013.
- Mark Abley's official website
- 'Stop/Arrete', review of Spoken Here in the Oxonian Review
- , publisher's details about Conversations with a Dead Man