Susan Musgrave

Susan Musgrave's career as a social misfit began when she was kicked out of kindergarten class for laughing, and sent to the library to contemplate her heinous crime while seated on the "Thinking Chair". She understood, then, that books and thinking must be considered dangerous, and they became her favourite forms of escape. Not long afterwards she dropped out of kindergarten for good.

Her first book of poetry was published when she was 19. Of Songs of the Sea Witch, her grandfather said, "Even Shakespeare had to write a lot of rubbish to begin with."

In 1969 she received a short term Canada Council Grant of $1500 and spent the next two years living on the remote west coast of Ireland. In 1972, with six books behind her, she returned to Canada, to Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands at the time).

She stayed in Canada until 1975 when she married a criminal lawyer, Jeffrey Green, at St. Albans Cathedral in England. The marriage lasted four years until Susan left for Mexico with an acquitted smuggler, Paul Oscar Nelson, who her husband had defended. She and Paul lived for two years in Colombia and Panama, until the birth of their daughter, Charlotte, in 1982.

While Susan was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Waterloo, 1983-85, and shortly after the publication of her book Tarts and Muggers, Paul Nelson was sentenced to four years in prison in California on a previous smuggling charge. While in prison he gave his life to the Lord, and Susan and Paul were divorced shortly afterwards.

Around the same time, 1983, Susan received a manuscript from a convicted bank-robber, Stephen Reid, serving a twenty-year sentence at Millhaven Penitentiary, in Ontario. She read the manuscript, fell in love with the protagonist, and married the author on October 12, 1986, while he was still in prison.

On June 1, 1987, Stephen Reid was granted full parole, and the couple moved into a seaside cottage on Vancouver Island. In 1989 their daughter Sophie was born; in 1997 Stephen burned his warrant and Susan burned her mortgage papers in a party attended by a diverse group of family, friends and writers including a Supreme Court judge and two paroled members of the Squamish Five.

In 1997, the couple began building a house on Haida Gwaii, and their lives were the subject of a CBC Life and Times documentary, The Poet and the Bandit. On June 9, 1999, after a two year clean-and-dry period that had ended roughly around the time the documentary aired, Stephen was arrested for bank robbery in Victoria. He was sentenced to eighteen years in prison on December 22, 1999.

Stephen Reid was released from prison on Day Parole, January 2008. In 2010, Susan became the proprietor of Copper Beech House where she kept the Persian rugs and curios, replaced the furniture, and took to serving an “Off-the-Continental” Breakfast. Just last year, the Writers Trust of Canada honoured Susan with the 2014 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.


Books by Susan Musgrave

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