Alden Nowlan

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Alden Nowlan
Born Alden Albert Nowlan
(1933-01-25)January 25, 1933
Stanley, Nova Scotia
Died June 27, 1983(1983-06-27) (aged 50)
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Resting place Forest Hill Cemetery, Fredericton
Occupation Journalist, poet, novelist, playwright, author
Language English
Nationality Canadian
Notable awards Governor General's Award, Guggenheim Fellowship
Spouse Claudine Orser (m. 1963)
Children John (adopted)

Alden Albert Nowlan (January 25, 1933 – June 27, 1983) was a critically acclaimed Canadian poet, novelist, and playwright.


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 and later life[edit]

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 after being in a coma after collapsing at his home.[1]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Nowlan's most notable literary achievements include the Governor General's Award for Bread, Wine and Salt (1967) and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton from 1968 until his death in 1983.[2] 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
  • "The Masks Of Love"


  • Miracle at Indian River. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1968.
  • Various Persons Named Kevin O’Brien. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1973.
  • The Invisible Boy. Hantsport: Lancelot, 1983.
  • Will Ye Let the Mummers In. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
  • The Wanton Troopers. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1988.
  • The Glass Roses, 1992.


  • 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)


  • Alden Nowlan's Maritimes. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Alden Nowlan". Archives and Special Collections. University of New Brunswick. 
  • 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].

Further reading[edit]

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