Alden nowlan

Alden Nowlan (1933-1983). Photo by Kent Nelson. Courtesy Goose Lane editions.

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

In 2003, American poet Robert Bly called Nowlan "the greatest Canadian poet of the twentieth century."[1]


AldenNowlan's home, Stanley, NS

Nowlan's childhood home in Stanley, circa 1930. From the Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to Canada. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Nowlan was born in the village of Stanley, Nova Scotia, the first child of Grace Reese and Freeman Nowlan. His father, Freeman, was a seasonal worker, a pulp cutter in winter and a mill hand in the neighbouring sawmill in summer. Alden's mother, Grace was just 14 years old. Grace gave birth to Alden's sister, Harriet, in November 1935.[1]

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 lifeEdit

Nowlan's artfully embroidered resume landed him a job at 19 with the 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 1967 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.

The Canadian Encyclopedia says that Nowlan "was often at the centre of the literary community in Fredericton and Atlantic Canada generally, through the vivid example of his craftsmanship, through his work at University of New Brunswick, ... and through his individualistic personality."[2]

Through this period his "collections of poetry grew steadily in their power and intensity."[2]


The Canadian Encyclopedia describes his poetry as "rich in regional sensibility and in affection for ordinary people but connected by Nowlan's intelligence, temperament and reading to a literary world far beyond folk culture."[2]


Stanley Community Centre

Alden Nowlan memorial cairn, Stanley, NS. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Nowlan won the Governor General's Award in 1967 for Bread, Wine and Salt.

He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

He held the position of Writer in Residence at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton for fifteen years, from 1968 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 Frankenstein, The Dollar Woman, and The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca.

The home of the Graduate Student Association at the University of New Brunswick is called the Alden Nowlan House.

Nowlan is buried in the Poets' Corner of the Forest Hill cemetery in Fredericton, New Brunswick.


Poetry Edit

  • A Darkness in the Earth. Eureka, CA: Hearse Press. 1958.
  • The Rose and the Puritan. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1958.
  • Wind in A Rocky Country. Toronto: Emblem Books, 1960.
  • Under the Ice. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1961
  • Five New Brunswick Poets (by Elizabeth Brewster, Fred Cogswell, Robert Gibbs, Alden Nowlan, & Kay Smith). Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1962.
  • The Things Which Are. Toronto: Contact Press, 1962.
  • Bread, Wine and Salt. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1967.
  • The Mysterious Naked Man. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1969.
  • Playing the Jesus Game: Selected poems. Trumansburg, NY: 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 (with paintings by Tom Forrestall). Fredericton: Brunswick Press: 1974.
  • Smoked Glass. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1977.
  • I Might Not Tell Everybody This: Poems. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1982.
  • Early Poems. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1983.
  • An Exchange of Gifts: Poems new and selected (edited & with an introduction by Robert Gibbs). Toronto: Irwin, 1985.
  • What Happened When He Went to the Store for Bread: Poems (edited and introduced by Thomas R. Smith). Minneapolis: Nineties Press; Saint Paul, MN: Distributed by Ally Press Center, 1993;
    • (with an Afterword by Thomas R. Smith). Saint Paul, MN: Thousands Press, 2000.
  • Alden Nowlan: Selected poems (edited by Lorna Crozier & Patrick Lane).. Don Mills, ON: House of Anansi Press, 1996.


  • The Dollar Woman (with Walter Learning) (premiere 1972). New Canadian Drama 2 (edited by Patrick B. O’Neill). Borealis Press: 1981.
  • Frankenstein (with Walter Learning). Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1973.
  • The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca (with Walter Learning). Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1978.
  • Gardens of the Wind (a poem for voices, CBC radio broadcast). Saskatoon: Thistledown, 1982.


  • Miracle at Indian River. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1968.
  • Various Persons Named Kevin O’Brien. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1973.
  • Will Ye Let the Mummers In. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
  • The Wanton Troopers (written in 1961). Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1988.

Short fictionEdit

  • Nine Micmac Legends (illustrated by Shirley Bear). Lancelot, 1983; 5th printing, 1987.


  • Campobello: The outer island. Clarke, Irwin, 1975.
  • Double Exposure. Fredericton, NB: Brunswick Press, 1978.
  • White Madness (edited by Robert Gibbs). Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1996.
  • Road Dancers (edited by Robert Gibbs). Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1999.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Best of Alden Nowlan (edited by Allison Mitcham). Hantsport, NS: Lancelot, 1993.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy Athabasca University .[3]

See alsoEdit


  • Alden Nowlan: Essays on His works Guernica Editions, 2006.(ISBN 978-1-55071-234-6)
  • Alden Nowlan and Class by Thomas R. Smith
  • Gregory M. Cook. One Heart, One Way: Alden Nowlan, A Writer's Life Pottersfield Press, 2003. (ISBN 1-895900-59-X)
  • 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)
  • New, W H., ed. The Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. p. 835-837.
  • Patrick Toner. If I Could Turn and Meet Myself: The Life of Alden Nowlan Goose Lane Editions, 2000. (ISBN 978-0-86492-265-6)
  • 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].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Patrick Toner, "Albert Alden Nowlan," New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia, Web, June 11, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Douglas Fetherling, "Nowlan, Alden," Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 1542. Print.
  3. Greg Cook, Selected Bibliography of Works by Alden Nowlan, English-Canadian Writers, Centre for Language and Literature, Athabasca University,, Web, June 9, 2012.

External linksEdit

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