Watson, Wilfred

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Watson, Wilfred

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        Dates of existence

        1911 - 1998


        Wilfred Watson was born in Rochester, England in 1911, the oldest child of Frederick Walter Watson and the former Louisa Claydon. He immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of fifteen, settling in Duncan, British Columbia. After one year of highschool, he found a job with a Vancouver Island sawmill. Watson attended the University of British Columbia from 1940 to 1943, earning a B.A. in English literature. During the Second World War, he served in the Canadian navy; after the war he continued his education at the University of Toronto, receiving an M.A. in 1946 and a Ph.D. in 1951. In 1949, Wilfred Watson was employed as a special lecturer in English at the University of British Columbia and from 1951 to 1953 he became professor in the Department of English at the University of Alberta, teaching at the Calgary campus. In 1954, he transferred to the Edmonton campus, remaining there as Professor of English until his retirement in 1977. Wilfred Watson married Sheila Martin Doherty in 1941, who as Sheila Watson published The Double Hook in 1959. The Watson's both taught at the University of Alberta and participated in an intellectual circle that included the painter Norman Yates, and actor-directors Gordon Peacock and Thomas Peacocke among others (see Stefan Haag, M.A. thesis). Watson co-founded the Jazz Club "Yardbird Suite" in Edmonton in the early 1960's, and joined the editorial group of White Pelican (a quarterly review of the arts) in 1972. Wilfred Watson retired from the University of Alberta in 1977 and moved in 1980 to Nanaimo, B.C. with his wife Sheila. He passed away very shortly after his wife Sheila in Nanaimo in 1998, at the age of 87. Wilfred Watson's writing career was prolific and continuously evolving and developing. T.S.Eliot accepted his first volume of poetry, Friday's Child, for Faber and Faber, publishing it in 1955, and Watson received the 1955 Governor General's Award for it. He lived in Paris, 1955-1956, as the recipient of a Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship. Here he was introduced to the theatre of the absurd, and in the following years explored this interest with his own writing and directing activities. In the early 1960s, Watson made contact with Marshall McLuhan and developed a growing interest in McLuhan's theories, culminating with their collaboration on the study, From Cliche to Archetype. Watson started work on his first major play, Cockcrow and the Gulls, in the mid-1950s, and it was first performed at the University of Alberta's Studio Theatre in March 1962. Studio Theatre, where Thomas Peacocke and Gordon Peacock were both associated, was an important venue for the production of Watson plays. During the 1960s Watson had his most prolific period of playwriting; Trial of Corporal Adam was produced in 1963; Wail for two Pedestals in 1964; and Let's murder clytemnestra according to the principles of marshall mcluhan in 1969. A play for Canada's centennial, O holy ghost, dip your finger in the blood of Canada, and write, I love you was produced in 1967. (For a complete listing of Watson's works, please refer to the Watson biography file at the University of Alberta Archives) During the 1970s, Watson concentrated on writing poetry, and his second volume of poetry, The Sorrowful Canadians and Other Poems was published in 1972. This volume of poetry experimented with using different typefaces and repetitions, and Watson later introduced Number-grid Verse in a volume titled I Begin With Counting. Number-grid verse involved a configuration that combines numerals and words juxtaposed on the page; this form allowed Watson to score poetry for oral performance by several voices. A second volume of number-grid verse, Mass on Cowback, was published in 1982. The 1980s also saw Watson return to writing for the stage; The Woman Taken in Adultery, a short play, was performed at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1987 and a major play trilogy, Gramsci x 3 was produced by Studio Theatre in 1986. The number-grid verse concept was applied to these later plays as well. Wilfred Watson also wrote some short stories, essays, and a novel, although a lot of what he wrote was never published. In her article on Wilfred Watson for the Gale Dictionary of Literary Biography, Diane Bessai writes: "Wilfred Watson, playwright, poet, teacher, and literary theorist, has steadily conducted a one-man revolution in Canadian letters from the 1950s to the present."(pp 382)


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