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Mitchell, W. O. (William Ormond)

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Mitchell, W. O. (William Ormond)

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Canadian writer, teacher, playwright and performer, W. O. Mitchell was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, on March 13, 1914 and died in Calgary, February 25, 1998. Mitchell spent his childhood in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, but had to move to Florida when he was 12 to aid his recovery from tuberculosis. Returning to Canada in 1931, he studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta. In 1944, after teaching for 2 years, he settled in High River, Alta, where he remained until 1968 except for 3 years as fiction editor at Maclean’s (1948-51). After 1968 he was writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta and Massey College, Toronto and at the University Windsor from 1978-87, after which he lived in Calgary until his death. Mitchell was the director of the Writing Division, Banff Centre from 1975-85 where he developed and taught a creative writing method, he termed the messy method.
In 1947 Mitchell achieved instant recognition with the publication of his classic Who Has Seen the Wind. Allan King directed the feature film based on the novel (1977) and an edition of the book illustrated by William Kurelek was republished in 1991. Mitchell's second novel was The Kite (1962) followed by The Vanishing Point (1973), How I Spent My Summer Holidays (1981), Since Daisy Creek (1984). In 1988 he published a novel of suspense, Ladybug, Ladybug..., followed by another novel, Roses Are Difficult Here, in 1990. He also published a mystery, For Art's Sake, in 1992.
Mitchell also wrote for the stage, radio and TV. The popular Jake and the Kid (1961) originated in stories written for Maclean's. The series ran weekly on CBC Radio 1950-56 and made Mitchell a national celebrity. The series was televised in 1961. The early radio plays The Devil's Instrument (1949) and The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon (written 1951, published 1965) were later revised as full-length plays; the latter was staged in 1979 by Theatre Calgary as were The Kite (1981) and 2 plays written for the stage, Back to Beulah (which won the Chalmers Award, 1976) and For Those in Peril on the Sea (1982). These plays were published in Dramatic W.O. Mitchell (1982). An illustrated edition of The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon followed in 1993. Mitchell also wrote a musical, Wild Rose, in 1967. The audio book An Evening with W.O. Mitchell (1997) features the author reading from his own works in his inimitably dramatic style.
He received numerous awards and accolades for his work. In 1973 Mitchell became a Member of the Order of Canada. He was awarded several honorary degrees and received the Stephen Leacock Award for his book According to Jake and the Kid (1989). In 1992 he became an honorary Member of the Privy Council. After his death in 1998 the W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize was established for an individual who has produced a substantial body of work and who has acted as a mentor to new writers. Artifacts of W.O. Mitchell’s writing career are held and displayed by the Highwood Museum in High River, Alberta.

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