Thursday, June 23, 2011

My New Writing Hero: Madge Macbeth

The great thing about outdoor art exhibitions is that passers-by stumble across people and pieces they might otherwise never see. So it was that when I was in Ottawa last week I learned about the woman who is my new writing hero: Madge Macbeth.

Madge Macbeth
Madge Macbeth, ca 1900  
This portrait is part of the National Portrait Gallery`s 2011 exhibition in Ottawa — Portraits in the Street: Political Culture — and it's hanging on an outdoor wall in the city's market area (hence the weird play of light across it). According to a blurb with the picture, Macbeth was one of the few women in early 20th Century Canada to make her living entirely by her pen; she wrote several volumes of thinly veiled satire about the Capital, its politicians and its politics. 

That short street-side entry may have caught my attention, but it doesn't come close to capturing the essence of Madge Macbeth. 

In a 2008 post, the blog Women in Ottawa says Macbeth was also a writer of first-wave feminist fiction, with novels and short stories to her credit. Originally from Philadelphia, she moved to Ottawa with her engineer husband near the turn of the century. A founding member of the Canadian Authors Association, she  chose writing as an occupation that would let her stay home with her children after her husband died.   

And a 2006 Ottawa Citizen story, The Unshackling of Madge Macbeth, calls her bold and innovative, gutsy, successful, controversial, brave, talented and "skilled beyond measure in the art of self-promotion"  —  and then continues:

"Today, she is virtually unknown."

I feel a project coming on...


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