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W.O. Trivia

  • There are several reasons why William Ormond - W.O. - Mitchell, (1914 to 1998) stands among the giants of Canadian literature.  
  • He enjoyed rightful and undisputed standing as the author of the bestselling novel in Canada, Who has seen the Wind, the one that wrapped the mysteries of life within a prairie boyhood  and gave him the status of successful author at 33-years of age thus providing him with the platform for a half century.
  • Its sales were approaching the million mark before his passing and had displaced the previous Canadian title holder, Maria Chapdelaine, a novel set in French Canada and written the year before Mitchell’s birth.
  •  Second, Mitchell is important for us all because he profoundly influenced a generation of other Canadian authors as a teacher and lecturer at many levels including as a Writer in Residence at Trent University, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta,  the University of Toronto’s Massey College, the University of Windsor, and the Banff Centre.   He studied at the UofA and the University of Manitoba.
  • He also mentored others outside of formal settings as unofficial editor and mentor, encouraging many from his time as Literary Editor for MacLean’s magazine.  Mitchell has been credited with “discovering” internationally acclaimed writers like Ray Bradbury and fellow Leacock Medal winners Farley Mowat and Ernest Buckler
  •  “Farley could have been a lot greater than he is ... ,” Mitchell said in a 1980 interview. [i]
  • Finally, as reflected in his Leacock Medal Winning books, Jake and the Kid, and According to Jake and the Kid, Mitchell was an effective and widely appreciated performer communicator on radio, television and stage whose public persona was firmly intertwined with that of his characters, notably the wise old hired hand Jake Strumper.

  • Mitchell said the writer who had the greatest influence on him as a writer was Virginia Woolf.
  • He was not an unqualified admirer of Stephen Leacock, once calling him “a little slapstick ... broad and exaggerated,” following a formula of “all the New Yorker things.”  However, he did add “I’d rank him very high.”

  • Mitchell’s son Ormond and Ormond’s wife Barbara were both literary scholars who produced a well reviewed and uniquely intimate biography of W.O. in two volumes: The Life of W.O. Mitchell, Beginnings to Who has seen the Wind, 1914 to 1947, and The of W.O. Mitchell, The years of Fame, 1948-1998.

Review of Jake and the Kid

[i] Various Obits and Interview with David O’Rourke for Essays on Canadian Writing. 20 (Winter 1980): p149-59. Gale 2/27/2013