Marilyn Bowering was born in Winnipeg, Canada and moved with her family to Victoria, B.C. as a child. Her first writing was as a poet after study with Robin Skelton and important friendships with the poets Dorothy Livesay and PK Page. Her first book, The Liberation of Newfoundland, set in Newfoundland — to which her father’s family had emigrated in the early 19th century — combined lyric poems, prose and photographs. She then turned her interest to the British Columbia coastal landscape and mythology in which she had grown up. During this period she published several volumes of poetry, including One Who Became Lost and The Killing Room; a book of short prose, The Visitors Have All Returned; and co-edited the seminal anthology of Native Canadian Indian poetry, Many Voices. Subsequently she began the first of a number of extended periods in Europe, spending a year in Greece and several years in Scotland. Out of this period came the books, Sleeping with Lambs, several pamphlets with Martin Booth’s Sceptre Press, and Giving Back Diamonds.
In the mid 1980s, after publishing a volume of selected poetry (The Sunday Before Winter — nominated for a Governor General’s Award), she turned from lyric poetry to narrative work, writing on the First World War (Grandfather Was A Soldier), Marilyn Monroe (Anyone Can See I Love You, the space dog, Laika (Calling all the World) and George Sand (A Cold Departure). Each of these works (with the exception of A Cold Departure) was published in book form and also dramatized for either BBC or CBC radio and some were also performed on stage, garnering a number of significant nominations such as for the Prix Italia and the Sony Prize. In collaboration with the Canadian director, Elizabeth Gorrie, who also produced Marilyn Bowering’s play, Temple of the Stars (1996), and the Japanese director, Yuko Sekyia, she wrote narrative, poems and songs for Hajimari-No-Hajimari four myths of the Pacific Rim, which toured throughout North America and Japan.
Marilyn Bowering’s first novel, To All Appearances A Lady, was published in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States where it was a 1990 New York Times Notable Book selection. The novel tells the story of two women who immigrate to Vancouver Island in the late 19th century from Hong Kong. At its core is the tale of the lepers of D’Arcy Island, an imaginative re-construction of the lives of the Chinese lepers who were abandoned there during this period. It continues to be a popular choice for schools and Book Clubs. It has also served as a text in the studies of History and International Relations in Universities in Canada and the Middle-East. In 2003, the English Composer, Gavin Bryars, set a section of To All Appearances A Lady as a song.
Returning to poetry after several years of living in Seville, Spain, Marilyn published Love As It Is and Autobiography. Autobiography brought her a second nomination for the Governor General’s award plus the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Cover art for these books and for the subsequent, Human Bodies: New and Selected Poems, 1987-1999 and The Alchemy of Happiness in 2003 was by the Spanish painter, Mercedes Carbonell. In 2004 a catalogue of Carbonell’s drawings of the female body was produced with Marilyn Bowering’s poems, by the Fundacion Aparejadores de Sevilla.
Marilyn Bowering’s work with the animateur, Ishu Patel, for the National Film Board on Divine Fate resulted in awards from the Earth Peace International Film Festival and from the International Animation Festival.
In 1997 Visible Worlds, Bowering’s second novel was published in Canada. This work was also published in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in translation in Germany, Finland and Greece. It received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and was short-listed for the prestigious Orange Prize. Marilyn Bowering’s evocation of a woman’s crossing of the Arctic ice cap and the tracing of the lives of three families against the backdrop of the Depression, Second World War, Korean War and the Cold War have attracted considerable attention, including that of researchers into the history of biological warfare.
Marilyn Bowering’s third novel, Cat’s Pilgrimage (2004) tells a story that crosses the boundaries of literary and fantasy fiction. Cat’s Pilgrimage is a bold portrayal of a young woman’s journey from the all too commonplace violent world of her peers to the timeless world stage of the Glastonbury Zodiac. An undying love-story, told by the cat, Cutthroat, weaves its thread through a tapestry of history and event from the Iron Age to Bay Watch. At its heart, Cat’s Pilgrimage is a love story, and a fable about adolescence that touches the comic and tragic limits of innocence and ignorance.
What It Takes to be Human, Bowering’s fourth novel (short-listed for the Ethel Wilson Prize), was published in 2006 in Canada and 2007 in the UK. The story begins the day after World War II is declared in Canada. Sandy Grey, a nineteen year old air cadet, wants nothing more than to sign up, but his father, a fundamentalist preacher won’t give him permission to fight—not because he is a pacifist, but because he believes the world is living through ‘the last days’. After he attacks his father, Sandy is incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane. His search for love and justice exposes analogies with the world outside–and the world today.
Green (poetry (2007) is a synthesis of formal and improvisational techniques and a series of conversations rooted in her love of the poets Rumi, Lorca and Ritsos. In many ways it is a statement of her abiding concern with cultural confluence. The cover art for Green is by PK Page, with whom Marilyn remained friends until her death in early 2010.
In 2012 Marilyn published the poetry book Soul Mouth (short-listed for the Pat Lowther Prize.) The collection begins in childhood (Body) and continues through the explorations of Soul to The Story-Tellers on their Carpets. In her review, Barbara Carey referred to Bowering’s ability to shift seamlessly from a scene of the commonplace into a mystical realm, and to explore the continuity between the living and the dead “not only with respect to loved ones the poet has lost but also, in a collective sense, our connection to antiquity (elements of fairy tales, folklore and mythology echo throughout the collection).”
Folklore and Folktale are at the heart of Marilyn Bowering’s new novel-in-progress in which a young woman learns compassion for the environment as well as for others as she undertakes an exercise in memory. In line, perhaps, with Marilyn’s advocacy of “slow books’ this one is taking its time.
Marilyn Bowering is married and has one daughter. She lives in British Columbia, Canada.