Alistair MacLeod

Author, university professor.

Alistair MacLeod (1936-2014) was a prominent Canadian author and educator. Regarded as one of the country’s greatest short story writers, he has been widely recognized for his collections Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). MacLeod is perhaps best known world-wide for his award-winning novel, No Great Mischief (1999) for which he became the only Canadian winner of the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary award.

John Alexander Joseph MacLeod was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan on July 20th, 1935. After living on the prairies for some time, MacLeod returned with his parents to their native Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia at the age of 10. They settled amongst extended family in Dunvegan, Inverness County in the farmhouse built by MacLeod’s great-grandfather in the mid-1800s. MacLeod remained there throughout his high school years until he graduated in 1954. In order to finance his post-secondary studies, Alistair worked a number of odd jobs throughout the years including: delivering milk, logging, mining and fishing.

In 1956, MacLeod attended teachers college in Truro, N.S. and then went on to teach school on the small Island of Port Hood, N.S. In 1960, he graduated from St. Francis Xavier University with a BA and B.Ed, earned a Masters Degree at the University of New Brunswick in 1961 and earned his PhD from the University of Notre Dame in 1968.

A specialist in British literature of the 19th century, MacLeod taught English for three years at Indiana University. In 1969, Dr. MacLeod joined the faculty of the University of Windsor as a professor of English and creative writing where he taught for more than 30 years. While at the University, he enjoyed a great working relationship with a number of well-regarded Canadian authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Eugene McNamara. He remained a popular and dedicated member of the teaching faculty until his retirement in 2000.

Each summer, MacLeod would take a break from teaching and return to his beloved Cape Breton Island to spend time in his family home and to work on his writing. He would hike daily to the small cliff side cabin where he would painstakingly handwrite each of his works. MacLeod’s work was inspired by and focused on the land and the people of the Island.  In 1976, he published his first collection of short stories, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, which gained critical acclaim. It was 10 years before he published his second collection, As the Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories, which was equally well-received in the literary world and cemented his status as a master of the genre.

After labouring for 13 years, MacLeod published his first and only novel in 1999. No Great Mischief is an epic family saga set on Cape Breton Island. The critically-acclaimed book, which was translated into 17 different languages, tells the tale of several generations of the family of narrator Alexander MacDonald as they emigrate from Scotland and adapt to their new Canadian home.

In addition to the IMPAC Dublin award, No Great Mischief also won the Canadian Booksellers Association Library Award, the Trillium Book Award, the Lannan Literary Award, Dartmouth Book and Writing Award for Fiction and The Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards for author and fiction book of the year (2000). In 2008, Alistair MacLeod was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his commitment to Canadian literature.

MacLeod’s final published work was an October 2012 chapbook, Remembrance, which was an original short story commissioned by the Vancouver Writer’s Fest.

Alistair MacLeod and his wife Anita were married for more than 42 years and had six children. Alistair MacLeod passed away on April 20, 2014 after suffering a stroke and was buried in Broad Cove, N.S at St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church.