Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MITCHELL, W. O. (1914-1998)

William Ormond Mitchell was the most loved of Canadian authors, his fiction and drama spanning the worlds of popular entertainment and literary art. Born on March 13, 1914, in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, to Ormond and Margaret McMurray Mitchell, he grew up on the Prairies and attended the Universities of Manitoba and Alberta. His first and most celebrated novel, Who Has Seen the Wind (1947), launched a distinguished literary career, during which he wrote drama for radio, screen, stage, and television as well as short stories and nine more novels, including the critically acclaimed The Vanishing Point (1973) and How I Spent My Summer Holidays (1981). Mitchell also became a mentor to younger authors as writer in residence at several universities and was awarded the Order of Canada and other honors before his death in Calgary on February 25, 1998.

Mitchell's broadest popularity grew from his Jake and the Kid radio series, a humorous look at Prairie life that ran for more than 300 episodes, and from his public performances in the tradition of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Stephen Leacock. As a humorist, Mitchell claimed literary descent particularly from Twain. Mitchell's greatest critical success is Who Has Seen the Wind, the story of a Prairie boy's search for meaning that has become a Canadian classic.

Mitchell was, in one respect, a victim of his own success. His lyric evocation of a child's world of innocence is so compelling that readers can be distracted from his enduring themes of the fall from innocence and the problems of human mortality. On the other hand, Mitchell's popularity enabled him to create for all Canadians an ancestral home on the Prairies.

Dick Harrison Sechelt, British Columbia

Harrison, Dick. "W. O. Mitchell (1914–)." In Canadian Writers and Their Works, Fiction series, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley. Toronto: ECW Press, 1991: 4: 141–208.

Latham, Sheila, and David Latham, eds. The Art of W. O. Mitchell. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.

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