Honorary degree citation - George Woodcock*
By: Wynne Francis, November 1970
In 1959 a most significant literary event occurred: a critical quarterly entitled Canadian Literature was born. Those of us then interested in literature in Canada read the impressive first issue and shook our heads ruefully. Much as we needed just this kind of high quality journal focussed exclusively on letters in Canada, we were sure it could not last. The reading public was too limited; there surely wasn't enough good Canadian writing to warrant such an endeavour; and certainly there weren't enough capable and interested scholars to contribute articles for more than a few issues. Canada, we felt, simply could not sustain a journal of this calibre.
We were wrong on all counts. Now, some twelve years later, Canadian Literature Number 45 is on the stands, as handsome, substantial and readable as ever. The journal has not only continued to appeal to those already interested; it has stimulated thousands of new readers here and abroad; and it has persuaded an increasing number of talented scholars to turn their attention to letters in Canada.
The success of the journal Canadian Literature is in very large part due to its editor, George Woodcock.
Mr. Woodcock, born in Winnipeg, moved to England as a child and was educated there. During the thirties and forties he was a free lance writer supplying the BBC with talks and documentaries, contributing articles to more than 25 established literary periodicals, editing a magazine called Now and publishing books of his own poems, plays and studies in biography, politics and philosophical anarchism.
In 1949, George Woodcock returned to Canada, settled in Vancouver, and soon joined the teaching faa.ilty at the University of British Columbia. From his home base in Vancouver, Mr. Woodcock has travelled widely in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, Ceylon and most of Western Europe. Out of such travels have come numerous books and hundreds of radio and television scripts. His continuing political interest has yielded further studies of anarchism, civil disobedience and the role of the writer in politics. His most recent biography The Crystal Spirit: a study of George Orwell, won the Governor General's Award. He continues to write both poems and plays and in addition he has edited several anthologies of critical essays. This very month, bookstores across Canada are displaying George latest book one to which we look forward with great anticipation: it is called Canada and the Canadians.
Hindsight now enables us to see why we Canadians in 1959 were so wrong about the future of the new periodical called Canadian Literature. We prophets of doom had simply failed to realize who the editor was.
George Woodcock is the ideal expatriate - the kind who roams far afield but who eventually comes home, bringing back to his native land the wealth of his experience, the richness of his talent, the ripeness of his professional expertise. How easy it would have been for this distinguished man of letters to adopt a deprecating or patronizing attitude towards the literature of Canada! Instead, he chose to dedicate a considerable amount of his talent, time and energy to the establishment of a unique and thoroughly successful critical journal and thereby to make a lasting and impressive contribution to literary culture in Canada.
Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the University Council, and by the authority of the Board of Governors, I have the honour to present to you, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa - Mr. George Woodcock.