Henry Beissel is a poet, playwright, essayist, translator and editor who now lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Franciere, the distinguished translator and painter (www.arlettefranciere.com).
After completing his graduate work at the University of Toronto in 1960, Henry taught English literature as a specialist in the medieval and modern periods for 36 years. From 1960 to 1962 he taught at the University of Munich in Germany. From there he went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and from 1964 -1966 he was Canadian Aid Professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. In 1966, he joined the English faculty at Sir George Williams, now Concordia, University, in Montreal, where he established the Creative Writing program that is still flourishing. He became a Full Professor in 1976, and was promoted to Distinguished Emeritus Professor upon his retirement in 1996.
His commitment to writing first came to national attention through the controversial political and literary journal Edge he founded in Edmonton, Alberta, and edited from 1963 to 1969. Since then he has over thirty publications to his credit that have received high critical acclaim in Canada and abroad. His versatility as a writer is evident even in a partial list of them: 18 volumes of poetry; 6 books of plays, both for adults and for young audiences; translations from the works of Bauer, Huchel, Ibsen, Mrozek, Dorst and Sophocles; fiction and non-fiction; a book on Canada; a Festschrift for Irving Layton; two anthologies of plays for High Schools. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Throughout his years at university, Henry wrote and published poems and plays that gradually established his international reputation. Critics and fellow poets have acclaimed his poetry. Patrick White wrote: Henry Beissel is undoubtedly a Canadian poet of the first rank. He writes with the clarity and precision demanded of a strict imagist, and yet manages, without overburdening the issue, to give the image symbolic weight. The late F. R. Scott said about his Cantos North: The Canadian imagination, as elusive as the Canadian identity, is nevertheless a reality. Henry Beissel finds its constant source of strength and renewal in the wonder of our northland... This epic is the first to see it in its entirety, as a matrix which binds the whole together in a national mythology. And Keith Garebian declared that Season of Blood is one of the most powerful, moving, lyrical triumphs in modern poetry.
Henry's most successful play, Inuk and the Sun, has been performed in many parts of the world. When it premiered in Stratford in 1973, Thomas Willis, the theatre critic for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE wrote: "If you could have your pick of the Stratford, Ontario, season for an opening in Chicago next week, what would you choose?" asked a friend. "The answer was easy. Not Shakespeare, Goldsmith or Gogol... What I would give a lot to see here next week, next year, any time, is Inook and the Sun...as beautiful and magnificent as Homer." Sherrill Grace in Canada: the Idea of North (2001) refers to the play as “a mythic masterpiece”. It has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, a.o.
Henry has read from his work across Canada as well as in the USA, South and Central America, Europe, Africa, and China. In November 1994 he was awarded the first Walter Bauer Literaturpreis in Germany for his translations of Bauer's poetry and for his own literary oeuvre. More recently, in October 2006, he received First Prize in Poetry for “The Jade Canoe” in an international competition adjudicated by the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. In 2008, he was awarded the Naji Naaman Literary Prize for his long poem, “Where Shall the Birds fly?” and became an honorary member of the Maison Naaman pour la Culture in Beirut, Lebanon.
Henry continues to write steadily – poems, plays, fiction and essays. He is currently involved with Third Wall Theatre in Ottawa, for whom he adapted and translated Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in 2009. He wrote a modern version of Sophocles’ Antigone for the company in 2011. Both plays were performed to much critical and audience acclaim. He is publishing two volumes of poetry in 2011: Seasons of Blood (BuschekBooks), and Coming to Terms with a Child (Black Moss), both of which are now in print.
Henry is an excellent reader and makes himself available for readings in Canada and abroad whenever he is asked.