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John Steffler
John Steffler. Photo by Trina Koster

Poet’s Progress

John Steffler's amazing literary journey

On December 4, John Steffler (BA 1971 University College) was appointed the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada – the third person to hold the post since its establishment in 2002. “I feel very honoured,” he says.“It’s a pinnacle in my professional career.”

A prolific poet and author of seven books, Steffler is known for his ability to capture the interaction between people and their physical environment. His mandate as poet laureate is to promote Canadian poetry and literature, so Steffler is creating an online audio archive with Canadian poets reading their own work. He also teaches poetry workshops and meets with students in the creative-writing program at Concordia University in Montreal. Below are some highlights of his literary journey.

1971: Steffler graduates from U of T, while attending University College, with a BA in English. His area of concentration is 19th- and 20thcentury British literature. (He will also earn a master of arts from the University of Guelph in 1974.)

1975: Steffler moves from Toronto to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, to teach English at the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College campus of Memorial University. Acknowledging that most artists require a day job, Steffler enjoys both teaching and the time he now has to write.

1981: His first book, An Explanation of Yellow, is a “miscellany” of poems that had been written over several years.“A few of those poems,” he says now, “are like old places I can still go back to with pleasure, because they remind me of things I was discovering.”

1985: The Grey Islands, his second book of poetry, demonstrates the influence of his adopted East Coast terrain: it relates one man’s journey to a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland, and is cited as a Canadian wilderness classic.

1992: Steffler’s novel, The Afterlife of George Cartwright, is shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. “I took myself a little more seriously as a writer after that,” he admits.

2006: After being nominated by the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, Steffler is appointed poet laureate. “I’m particularly proud of the recognition I’ve received in Newfoundland,” he says, “especially being a ‘come from away’.”

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