DJWA, Sandra

Author Tags: Biography, Literary Criticism, Poetry

Biographer, critic and textual editor Sandra Djwa is professor emerita of English at Simon Fraser University, and the author of important biographies of F.R. Scott, Roy Daniells and P.K. Page. She has also written extensively on Sinclair Ross, Margaret Atwood and Al Purdy. Her biography of P.K. Page, Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen's 2012), was shortlisted for the inaugural Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize as well as the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. It later won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction, in 2013. [See review below.]

Born in Newfoundland on April 16, 1939, she came to British Columbia in 1958 and obtained her Ph.D. in English at the University of British Columbia in 1968, when the department was overseen by Roy Daniells. She was then appointed Professor of English at Simon Fraser University. She was Chair of the English Department between 1986 and 1994. She was Chair of Canadian Heads and Chairs of English in 1989. She was elected to the Royal Society in 1994 and received an honorary doctorate from Memorial University, Newfoundland, in 2002.

Her biography of F.R. Scott, The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott was shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Prize in 1987. It was translated as F.R. Scott: Une Vie by Florence Bernard and short-listed for the Governor-General's Award in French Translation in 2002.

Her biography of Roy Daniells, Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells was awarded the Lorne Pierce Gold Medal for literature from The Royal Society of Canada in 2002. She also edited the memoirs of Carl F. Klinck, editor of The Literary History of Canada, and delivered a keynote address on Klinck at a one-day symposium in conjunction with the launch of this book, Giving Canada A Literary History: A Memoir by Carl F. Klinck in 1991. She was also Klinck's literary executor.

The first woman to write the review of the year's work in "Poetry" for the University of Toronto Quarterly, Djwa was also, in 1973, co-founder of ACQL, The Association for the study of Canadian and Québec Literatures. Sandra Djwa was the second graduate of UBC, and the first woman, to deliver the Garnett Sedgewick Memorial Lecture at UBC in 1999 in honour of the department's 80th anniversary.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page


Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen's 2012) 9780773540613 $39.95

Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

F.R. Scott: Une vie, translation of F.R. Scott: The Politics of the Imagination , trans. Florence Bernard. Montreal: Editions du Boréal, publication 15 November, 2001.

Sandra Djwa, W.J. Keith, and Zailig Pollock, eds. Selected Poems of E.J. Pratt, with an introduction by Sandra Djwa. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

Monograph: Professing English at UBC: The Legacy of Roy Daniells and Garnett Sedgewick. The 1999 Garnett Sedgewick Memorial Lecture. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2000.

Giving Canada a Literary History: A Memoir by Carl F. Klinck, ed. Sandra Djwa. Ottawa/London: Carleton University Press for University of Western Ontario, 1991.

Complete Poems of E.J. Pratt: A Definitive Edition, two vols., eds. Sandra Djwa and Gordon Moyles with introduction, annotations, variants, unpublished verse, and textual notes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1987.

Paperback: The Politics of the Imagination: A Life of F.R. Scott. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1989.

On F.R. Scott: Essays on His Contributions to Law, Literature and Politics, eds. Sandra Djwa and R.St.J. MacDonald. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1983.

Saul and Selected Poetry of Charles Heavysege, ed. Sandra Djwa with introduction, bibliography, and notes (Literature of Canada: Poetry in Reprint). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.

E.J. Pratt: The Evolutionary Vision. Toronto/Montreal: Copp Clark/McGill-Queen's University Press, 1974.


1968 Ph.D. English, University of British Columbia, Canada "The Continuity of English Canadian Poetry"
1964 B.Ed. Honours English (First Class), University of British Columbia, Canada

2002 - 2004 Woodsworth Resident Scholar, Humanities, Simon Fraser University
1981 - 2002 Professor, Department of English, Simon Fraser University
1986 - 1994 Chair, Department of English, Simon Fraser University
1973 - 1980 Associate Professor, Department of English, Simon Fraser University
1968 - 1973 Assistant Professor, Department of English, Simon Fraser University

[Lisa Hartley photo]

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2013] "Literary Criticism" "Biography"

In Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells

It’s almost Biblical. Roy Daniells, of the bushy eyebrows, begat George [Woodcock] and Earle [Birney] and Sandra [Djwa] and Bill [New] and a host of others at UBC’s English Department where mantles of influence are passed ever so slowly, from Daniells (1902-1979) on down. In Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells (UTP $55) former Roy Daniells student Sandra Djwa recalls, among 474 pages, that when a young professor tagged Daniells as anti-Semitic and accused him of running his department meetings like a Nuremberg rally, the UBC autocrat shouted, “Put that down in the minutes!” Professing English: A Life of Roy Daniells was awarded the Lorne Pierce medal for biography from the Royal Society of Canada.


Biography of P.K. Page
Press Release (2012)

Sandra Djwa's Journey with No Maps is the first biography of P.K. Page, the product of over a decade’s research and writing.

"For women born near the start of the twentieth-century life was a journey with no maps because so much changed during their lifetimes – the right to vote, to higher education and to follow a career. This is the story of a young woman of exceptional consciousness who recognized the choices offered by modern life and followed only those related to her quest. Tracing Page’s life and artistic development through two world wars, her extensive travels, readings across Canada and her study of Sufism, Djwa vividly details the people and the events that prompted an enduring body of work.

"Page’s independent spirit propelled her from the Canadian Prairies to London, England, from work as a radio actress in the Maritimes to a script writer for the National Film Board, from a passionate affair with poet F.R. Scott to an enduring marriage with editor and diplomat Arthur Irwin. Discovering inspiration in many places – Australia, Brazil, London, Mexico, Montreal – Page wrote about her own story – and the larger woman’s life it represented – in poems, short stories, diaries and librettos. Simultaneously she began to paint, recording aspects of her inner and outer life in visual art.

"Journey With No Maps reads like a novel, drawing on the poet’s voice from interviews, diaries, letters and writings as well as the voices of her contemporaries. This biography has the vividness of a work of fiction yet is carried through with accuracy and truth as Djwa reveals the complexities of the artist’s private experience while showing her public emergence as an internationally known poet. It is both the captivating story of a remarkable woman and a major contribution to the study of Canada’s literary and artistic history revealing the whole impressive pattern of Page’s life’s work and her remarkable reputation as a visual artist (under the name of P.K. Irwin)."

Press Release (2013)

January 2013 – At a news conference held earlier today, jurors named five authors, including Sandra Djwa, as this year’s finalists for The 2013 Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction.

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction recognizes excellence in Canadian non-fiction writing and emphasizes the development of the careers of the authors it celebrates. All five finalists will be supported by extensive publicity and promotional opportunities, including a mid-cycle author event. As well, they will appear at The Globe and Mail/ Ben McNally Authors' Brunch on Sunday, March 3rd. For tickets: .

This marks the twelfth awarding of The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. The prize consists of $25,000 and a crystal trophy for the winning author and $2,000 for each of the runners-up as well as extensive national publicity and promotional support to help all books stand out in the national media and book retailers across the country.

Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen’s $39.95)
Review (2012)

from Joan Givner

Although P. K. Page regarded herself primarily as a poet, she was a painter who wrote more prose than poetry.

Born at Swanage, Dorset, in the south of England, on November 23, 1916, she came to Canada in 1919 when her parents, Major General Lionel Frank Page and Rosa Laura Whitehouse, settled in Red Deer, Alberta.

In Montreal in 1941 she became a member of the Preview Group with F.R. Scott and A.M. Klein, co-editing the literary periodical Preview. Page first lived on the West Coast from 1944 to 1946, participating in the development of Alan Crawley’s Contemporary Verse.
Here Joan Givner reviews Sandra Djwa’s new biography Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page in which Djwa traces Page’s quest for answers to the universal questions, “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?”

According to Givner, P.K. Page’s psychic journey of independence began when she chose a year in England over a university degree, educated herself through self-directed reading and, at a time when most women of her generation married, accepted an allowance from her father to find a place of her own in Montreal in which to write.

It was a mark of her commitment as an artist that P.K. Page, at the age of eighty, chose a biographer with a profound understanding of her work and the ability to weave that knowledge expertly into a compelling life story. Thereafter she cooperated with Sandra Djwa, granting interviews over a ten-year period.

In spite of the trust between them, the relationship was not without tensions as the biographer’s need to establish facts and dates conflicted with the subject’s belief in the non-linear nature of her experiences. Page saw all time and events as simultaneous—a precept of Sufism, but hardly one that a biographer could follow.

Djwa brought another great asset to her task because she was the previous biographer of F.R. Scott, the poet, law professor and legal activist, who was Page’s great love. Unable to cover the affair in the earlier biography, Djwa describes it here for the first time. Although Scott was married when the two met in Montreal, he fell deeply in love with Page, and she had every reason to hope that the relationship would become permanent. However, after eight years, he made the decision to remain in his marriage.

Page was devastated by the rejection. She was thirty-four at the time, a scriptwriter at the National Film Board, and when Arthur Irwin, the commissioner of the NFB, proposed marriage a few months later, she accepted. Two years after the marriage, Irwin was invited to join the diplomatic corps as high commissioner to Australia.

The years in Australia and his subsequent postings as ambassador to Brazil and Mexico broke the momentum of Page’s writing, and this period has been described, somewhat inaccurately, as her “decade of silence.” Even though she had won the Governor General’s Award for her poetry collection, The Metal and the Flower, she wrote little poetry and turned instead to drawing and painting. She also kept a diary, a version of which, entitled Brazilian Journal, was published three decades later. When asked about the ten-year hiatus, Page has explained that she could find no vocabulary for a Baroque world, and that not being immersed in the English language made it difficult to write poetry. She also found it hard to thrive outside a literary community.

If she hoped to find one after she returned to Canada, Page was disappointed. When Arthur Irwin accepted the job as publisher of the Victoria Daily Times, the couple settled in Victoria. The city did have a thriving literary and artistic community, but it was dominated by Robin Skelton who excluded Page from his Thursday night salons and from events at the University of Victoria, where he had established the department of Creative Writing.

Skelton emerges in an unfavourable light, his exclusionary tactics seen as a disparagement of Canadian literature. Yet the territorialism of any literary community rivals that of the animal kingdom, and there were many reasons for the animosity between the two. One may have been Skelton’s sensitivity to the British upper class persona that Page projected. (Although she immigrated at the age of three, she retained what her husband called “her god-damned Brit voice.”). After a long absence from Canada, “cosseted” in diplomatic circles, she had developed the intimidating presence of a grande dame. Relations deteriorated further when Arthur Irwin fired Skelton from his position as art critic for the Victoria Daily Times. The final row happened after Page learned of Skelton’s part in the University of Victoria’s decision to turn down the papers of Alan Crawley, founder of the poetry magazine, Contemporary Verse. As reported by Page, “I said, I don’t know what, ‘Go and boil your head,’ or “Go back to England...’ The whole party stopped and Skelton and I had a rip-snorting row, publicly.”

She was isolated and profoundly unhappy but eventually found support beyond Victoria. She joined the League of Canadian Poets, gained an admirer in George Woodcock who edited Canadian Literature; published Cry Ararat, a new collection of poetry, and enjoyed public readings of her work. At this time too, her interest in the mystical system of Sufism sharpened. She visited the enclave of Idries Shah in England, and joined a group studying Sufism in Victoria.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of Page’s life is the longevity of her creative energy. During the last years, she continued to produce such original work as Hologram (1994) a collection of glosas (a form invented by fourteenth century Spanish poets), as well as fiction, new poetry collections, and
Hand Luggage, a book length autobiography in verse.

And the honours poured in. She was given honorary degrees, symposiums devoted to her work, art shows, and many prizes. She took the designation of “National Treasure,” in the Ottawa Citizen to be an affirmation of her life’s work. However, she became painfully aware of the insubstantial nature of such accolades, when she was short-listed for the prestigious Griffin prize. She was dismayed not only by losing to Margaret Avison, a one-time rival, but by hearing Avison declared a “National Treasure.”

That was not the only honour that developed a sour note. She was given the Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award before a large crowd at the Vancouver Public Library. But two years later a division of Terasen Gas (formerly BC Hydro and Gas) was sold to a Texas group. Feisty to the end, Page registered her objection to the sale of Canadian companies by renouncing the award and donating the prize money to charity. The gesture was typical of the uncompromising honesty and outspokenness that characterized her entire life.

P.K. Page died at her Oak Bay home at age 93 on January 14, 2010. 9780773540613

Joan Givner writes from Victoria.

[BCBW 2012]

SFU English academic wins GG
Press Release (2013)

Sandra Djwa, a Simon Fraser University professor emerita of English and celebrated author known for her compelling scholarly biographies of important Canadian literary figures, has won the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction.

Affectionately known among writers as the GGs, the 14 coveted awards in seven different categories come with a $25,000 cash prize.

Along with this year’s other GG award winners, Djwa will be formally recognized at an awards ceremony and dinner with the Governor General and guests at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall on Nov. 28.

Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and now living in West Vancouver, Djwa has garnered one of Canada’s premier national literary awards for her latest book Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page.

Published in 2012 by McGill-Queen’s University Press, the book is the first biography of Patricia Kathleen Page. The British-born and Canadian-bred poet and fine artist died in 2010 in Victoria, B.C. at age 93. She inspired the literary growth of iconic Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.

In Journey with No Maps, Djwa draws on her 30-year friendship with Page and more than a decade’s worth of research about her work to chart Page’s evolution into one of Canada’s most influential writers.

“P.K. gave her first public reading to my poetry class at SFU in April 1970,” says Djwa, who taught at SFU from 1968 to 2005.

“I wrote her biography because she invited me to do so. She is a wonderful subject for biography as a person, as an influential writer and as an individual whose life as a poet, visual artist and diplomat’s wife cuts across many of the significant people and events in our century.”

Jon Smith, chair of SFU’s English department and an associate professor, echoes the pride and praise of many reviewers, including the GG jurors, of Djwa’s latest book.

“Both sympathetic and incisive, her biography of P.K. Page not only presents the life of a remarkably talented poet and artist, but also illuminates the many different creative contexts in which she found herself, from the progressive poetry circles of mid-twentieth century Montreal to her last decades in Victoria,” says Smith.

The GG jurors said this of Djwa’s biography of P.K. Page: “An insightful discussion of the power of her poetry, the book also illuminates Canada’s literary history in its formative years.”

In an article for the journal Literary Review of Canada, reviewer Molly Peacock wrote: “This beautifully documented biography proceeds through the full development of Page’s career, which is also the history of CanLit in a single example…”

A member of the Royal Society of Canada since 1994, Djwa chaired SFU’s English department from 1986 to 1994. She was the first recipient of the Trimark Women’s Mentor Award for mentoring younger colleagues in 1999.

The Royal Society awarded her the Lorne Pierce medal for Professing English (2002), her biography of Canadian poet and scholar Roy Daniells (1902-1979).