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Born in Belfast on September 26, 1939, George McWhirter was raised between a kitchen house on the Shankill Road and a bungalow in Carnalea, Co. Down. He received his BA and DipEd from Queen's University in Belfast, where he was a classmate of poets Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane and Robert Dunbar, the Irish literary critic. He taught at Kilkeel, Bangor, County Down (1962-1965), and at the University of Barcelona's Escuela de Idiomas (1965-1966). He came to Canada in 1966 and first taught high school in Port Alberni. He has lived in Vancouver since 1968, been involved with Vancouver Pacific Swim Club (now the Pacific Dolphins), acting as treasurer for 1992-93 and is an honorary member of CIVA (Canada-India Village Aid). He received his MA from UBC in 1970, staying on to become a full Professor and Head of the UBC Creative Writing Department from 1983 until 1993. He was associated with Prism International magazine as Managing Editor (68-69), Poetry Editor (70-76) and Co-Editor (1975-76), then as Advisory Editor from 1977-2005. He was editor of Words from the Inside (a Canadian Prison Arts magazine) in 1974 and 1975.
Some appearances of his translations and poetry in anthologies range in time and place from Soundings 72, edited by Seamus Heaney for Blackstaff Press in Belfast, to The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse (1973 and 1991 editions), 20th Century Latin American Poetry (University of Texas Press, 1996), Irish Writing in the 20th Century (Cork University Press, 2000), then Ireland once more for The Blackbird's Nest: An Anthology of Poetry from Queen's University Belfast (Blackstaff Press, 2003), and BC: In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry (Polestar, 2005). In 2008 he was featured in Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry (Mother Tongue Publications Inc.), Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets (Bibliosis). His poem, A Season of Easy Meat, appears in Poetry in Transit on the Vancouver buses, July 1, 2008-09. His version of Euripedes' Hecuba was produced by Blackbird Theatre at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in late December 2007 and early January 2008.
McWhirter's novel, Cage (Oberon), about a BC priest in Mexico, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the BC. Book Awards in 1988. As well as five collections of short stories, which include Bodyworks (Oberon, 1974), God's Eye (Oberon, 1981), Coming to Grips with Lucy (Oberon, 1982), A Bad Day To Be Winning (Oberon, 1984) and Musical Dogs (Oberon, 1996), he has published one novel about a kidnapping, partially set in the Squamish Valley, entitled Paula Lake (Oberon, 1985), and in another, The Listeners (Oberon 1991), he recalls his Belfast roots. He has a son, Liam, and a daughter, Grania. McWhirter and his wife Angela (Mairead Coid), whom he married in 1963, have maintained ongoing literary associations in Mexico with writers such as José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis and Gabriel Zaid. He published an award-winning translation of The Selected Poems of José Emilio Pacheco (New Directions, 1987). He was editor and major translator for an anthology of Mexican poets, Where Words Like Monarchs Fly(Anvil, 1999). Its title refers to the annual migration of monarch butterflies between Mexico and Canada, inspired by one man whose verse turned into a volume, Eyes to See Otherwise: The Selected Poems of Homero Aridjis, 1966-2000 (Carcanet/New Directions, 2002), for which McWhirter was co-editor and principal translator. As of 2008, he has completed a translation of Aridjis' Poemas Solares/Solar Poems for City Lights, San Francisco, 2009.
McWhirter's books of poetry include Catalan Poems (Oberon, 1971), Bloodlight for Malachi McNair (Kanchenjunga, 1974), Queen of the Sea (Oberon, 1976), Twenty-Five(Fiddlehead, 1978), The Island Man (Oberon, 1981), Fire Before Dark (Oberon, 1983), Incubus: The Dark Side of the Light (Oberon, 1997); A Staircase For All Souls (Oolichan, 1996), The Book of Contradictions (Oolichan, 2002), The Incorrection, (Oolichan Books, 2007), and he Anachronicles (Ronsdale Press, 2008).
As well as the Ethel Wilson Prize, he has won the League of Canadian Poets Canadian Chapbook Prize (for Ovid in Saskatchewan, 1998), the F.R. Scott Prize for Translation (1988), the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (shared with Chinua Achebe, 1972), the Macmillan Prize for Poetry, (University of British Columbia, 1969) as well as a Killam Prize for teaching in 1998 and another for Mentoring in 2004. In 2005 he won the Sam Black Award for his contribution to the Creative and Performing Arts and was made a lifetime member of the League of Canadian Poets for his contribution to poetry. On March 13, 2007, he was inaugurated at Vancouver City Hall as the City's first Poet Laureate. In addition, his book, The Incorrection, was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize at the 2008 BC Book Prizes.
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