Earle Birney

Biography of Earle Birney

Earle Alfred Birney (13 May 1904 – 3 September 1995) was a distinguished Canadian poet and novelist, who twice won the Governor General's Award, Canada's top literary honor, for his poetry.

Born in Calgary, Alberta, and raised on a farm in Erickson, near Creston, British Columbia, his childhood was somewhat isolated. After working as a farm hand, a bank clerk, and a park ranger, Birney went on to college to study chemical engineering but graduated with a degree in English. He studied at the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, University of California, Berkeley and University of London.

During his year in Toronto he became a Marxist-Leninist. Through a brief and quickly annulled marriage to Sylvia Johnston, he was introduced to Trotskyism. In the 1930s he was an active Trotskyist[citation needed] in Canada and Britain and was the leading figure in the Socialist Workers League but drifted away from the movement during World War II.

During the conflict, he served as a personnel officer in the Canadian Army (an experiences that he used in his 1949 novel, Turvey).

In 1946 Birney began teaching at the University of British Columbia, "where he founded and directed the first Canadian creative writing programme." His work led to the establishment of Canada's first Department of Creative Writing at UBC.

In 1995 Birney died of a heart attack.

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