George McWhirter





·        Poetry,

·        Fiction,

·        Literary Translation



·        Poetry,

·        Short Stories,

·        Novels,

·        Translation


Radio Plays

Awards & Honours

New Work


Readings & Upcoming Appearances

Contact Information











Photo:McWhirter the Man by Mark Van Mannen  


George McWhirter was born in Belfast on September 26, 1939, and growing up, he spent his winters in a brick kitchen house on the Shankill Road and his summers at an asbestos bungalow in Carnalea on the shores of the Belfast Lough.  He attended the Belfast Boy’s Model School (1947-1950), Grosvenor High School (1950-1957) and received his BA & DipEd from Queen's University Belfast  (1957-62), where he was a classmate of the poets, Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, and the Irish literary critic, Robert Dunbar.

The Mourne Mountains in South Down— where he lived with his wife, Angela, in Annalong and taught school at Kilkeel Secondary (1962-1964) — was his source for the mythical kingdom of Sarne in Bodyworks.  In 1964 he moved to North Down and Bangor Grammar for a year.  His inspiration for Catalan Poems came when he was an EFL instructor at the University of Barcelona's Escuela de Idiomas (1965-1966). He came to Canada in 1966 and lived in a cabin at Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island, teaching at Alberni District Secondary School. Since 1968, he has been in Vancouver, where he received an M.A. from UBC in 1970. 

For thirty-five years, he stayed on at UBC, becoming a Full Professor in 1982 and Head of the UBC Creative Writing Department from 1983 until 1993.  He was Advisory Editor for PRISM international magazine from 1977 until 2005, and prior to that Managing Editor (1968-1969), Poetry Editor (1970-1976), then Co-Editor (1976-77).  In 1975, he went to Mexico to work with José Emilio Pacheco on translations of his work, living in the town of Cuautla, Morelos. Four of his books are set in H. Cuautla, Morelos, the garrison town for Emiliano Zapata, where the “H” stands for “heroic.”’


At UBC, he was awarded a Killam Prize for Teaching in 1998, and the first Killam Prize for Mentoring at UBC in 2004, then in 2005, the Sam Black Prize for service to the Creative & Performing Arts.  In the same year he was given a Life Membership Award by the League of Canadian Poets. From 2007 until 2009, he served as Vancouver’s Inaugural Poet Laureate.



·        Contemporary Poetry of British Columbia (ed. J. Michael Yates, Sono Nis Press, 1970),


·        Soundings 72 (ed. Seamus Heaney, Blackstaff Press, 1972),


·        The Wearing of the Black (ed. Padraic Fiacc, Blackstaff Press, 1974)


·        The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse (ed. Ralph Gustafson, 1975, 1984 revised editions)


·        Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader (ed. David Pierce, Cork University Press, 2002)


·        In Fine Form: The Canadian Book OF FORM Poetry (eds. Kate Braid & Sandy Shreve, Raincoast Books, 2005)


·         A Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets (ed. David Biespiel, Oregon State University Press & Ooligan Press, 2006)


·        The Blackbird’s Nest (ed. Frank Ormsby, Blackstaff Press, 2006)


·        Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. (ed. Zachariah Wells, Biblioasis, 2008)


·        Naked in Academe, (ed. Rhea Tregebov, McClelland & Stewart, 2014)





At the launch of A Long Journey: contemporary northwest poets,  

Vancouver Public Library, November 13, 2006,


left to right: David Biespiel, George McWhirter, Kevin Craft, Miranda Pearson and Micheal Kenyon:



·         Stories of Pacific & Arctic Canada (ed. Rudy Wiebe & Andreas Schroeder, Macmillan)


·         The Second Blackstaff Book of Short Stories ( Blackstaff Press, 1991) 


·         Best Canadian Short Stories  (ed. David Helwig, 1971; Maggie & David Helwig, Oberon Press,1991)    


·         When We Were Young (ed. Madeline Sonik & Eric Henderson, Oberon Press, 2005) among others


·         CVC Carter  V Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series (ed. Gloria Vanderbilt, Exile Editions, 2013 & 2014)

Literary Translation

·         Volvox (ed. J. Michael Yates, Sono Nis Press)


·         Twentieth Century Latin American Verse (ed. Stephen Tapscott, University of Texas Press, 1996)


·         Poetry Comes Up Where It Can: Poems from The Amicus Journal, ed. Brian Swann, University of Utah Press, 2000)


·         CV2, Fall 2005 Special Translation issue, interview with Madeline Sonik plus commentary on background and process for rendering Homero Aridjis and Gabriel Zaid into English


·         international WORLD BEAT poetry now (ed. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2006).



·        Catalan Poems (Oberon Press, 1971)


·        Queen of the Sea (Oberon Press, 1976)


·        Twenty-Five (Fiddlehead Press, 1978)


·        The Island Man (Oberon Press, 1981)


·        Fire Before Dark (Oberon Press, 1983)


·        A Staircase For All Souls (Oolichan Books, 1996)


·        Incubus: The Dark Side of the Light (Oberon Press, 1997)


·        The Book of Contradictions (Oolichan Books, 2002)


·        The Incorrection (Oolichan Books, 2007)


·        The Anachronicles (Ronsdale Press, 2008)

Short Story


·        Bodyworks (Oberon Press, 1974)


·        God’s Eye (Oberon Press, 1981)


·        Coming to Grips with Lucy (Oberon Press, 1982)


·        A Bad Day To Be Winning (Oberon Press, 1984)


·        Musical Dogs (Oberon Press, 1996)



Exile Editions, fall, 2014



·        Paula Lake (Oberon Press, 1985) borrows its setting from the Alberni Valley as the hiding-place for a kidnapped Japanese boy, taken from a summer English program in Vancouver by a young B.C. jock, who wishes to teach the boy and his ex, an older woman from Ontario and director of the program, a real Canadian lesson


·        Cage (Oberon Press, 1987), the story of an Irish-Canadian priest in the village of Tetalcingo, Mexico, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the B.C. Book Awards in 1988. 


·        The Listeners (Oberon Press 1991) is set on the 12th day of July and  recalls his Belfast roots through the story of a flute player who quits the classical orchestra in Europe to return home, marry and take up the tuba in a brass band led by his father-in-law—to the chagrin of his father, a staunch flautist.

Literary Translation

·        Selected Poems of José Emilio Pacheco (New Directions, 1987), editor and principal translator.


·        Where Words Like Monarchs Fly (Anvil Press, 1999), editor and major translator.  Its title refers to the annual migration of monarch butterflies between Mexico and Canada.


·        Eyes to See Otherwise: The Selected Poems of Homero Aridjis (Carcanet / New Directions, 2002), co-editor with Betty Aridjis, and principal translator. 


·        Hecuba by Euripides for Blackbird Theatre, produced at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, December-January, 2007 - 2008.


·        Poemas solares / Solar Poems. Poemas solares (City Lights, San Francisco, 2010)


·        Tiempo de ángeles / A Time of Angels (Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2005 and City Lights, San Francisco, 2006).


·        The Selected Poems of Gabriel Zaid (Paul Dry Books, Philadelphia, 2014), major translator.

 Radio Plays

·         Suspension (CBC);


·         Don’t Go Walking on the Water (CBC);


·         The Listeners (CBC)

Awards & Honours

The Macmillan Prize for Poetry 1969


The Commonwealth Poetry Prize (shared with Chinua Achebe) 1972


The Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction, BC Book Awards 1987


The F.R. Scott Prize for Translation 1987


The League of Canadian Poets Canadian Chapbook Prize (for Ovid in Saskatchewan) 1998


Killam Prize for Teaching 1998


Killam Award for Mentoring in 2004


Sam Black Award for contribution to the Creative & Performing Arts 2005


The League of Canadian Poets Award 2005


Poet-in-Residence at Poet’s Corner for Educational Insights, 2004-2005


(where his essays, poems, interviews are to be accessed, some with audio visual accompaniment)



Vancouver’s Inaugural Poet Laureate 2007 – 2009) 


The selection committee represented a broad spectrum of literary culture in the city, chaired by the Chief Librarian, Paul Whitney, and comprised of Marnie Rice from Vancouver City Cultural Affairs, Hal Wake from Vancouver International Writers Festival, Marjorie Reynolds from the BC Publishers Association, Carla Funk, the Poet Laureate of Victoria, and the writer-poet, Gary Geddes.  The laureateship is made possible by the generous gift from Yosef Wosk to the City of Vancouver.  Mr. Wosk also sat in on the selection process.




League of Canadian Poets

The Writers’ Union of Canada


Skagit River Poetry Festival 2008, La Conner, Washington, May 16th & 17th,.

Left to right: poets, Chris Dombrowski, David Mason & George McWhirter.



The Flat Lake Festival, Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.  August 23 -24.

Seamus Heaney, George McWhirter & Paul Muldoon in the X-Tractor Tent, The Flat Lake Festival 2008




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