Honorary degree citation - Irving Layton*
By: Wynne Francis, June 1976
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you the distinguished poet, Mr. Irving Layton. Mr. Layton's association with Sir George Williams began in 1950 when he was hired as a parttime instructor in the evening division. Though he had already published two volumes of poems by that time, few people outside of Montreal knew him as a poet. By the end of the 1950's, however, his work had attracted favourable attention from important critics in both Canada and the United States. In 1959 his volume of collected poems, A RED CARPET FOR THE SUN, won the Governor General's Award.
During the 1960's Irving Layton became not only Canada's best-known and most prolific poet but also one of this country's most colourful and controversial public figures. Scarcely a week went by in which Layton did not appear on television or radio, in the pages of newspapers and magazines, or in person on the platforms of universities and public halls to give readings of his poems or to engage in panel discussions and debates. By 1970 Layton's poems were being taught in high schools and colleges across the country; university courses were devoted to his work; and graduate students were choosing him as a subject for their Master's and Doctoral dissertations.
Mr. Layton has travelled widely. He has given readings of his poems in cities as far apart as Hong Kong, New York, Antwerp, and Milan and at the request of the Canadian Department of External Affairs, has made an extended reading tour of Australian Universities. His poems have been translated into Italian, German, Russian, Roumanian, Polish, South Korean, Spanish, Portugese, French and Greek. A volume of Selected Poems appeared this year in Great Britain and another edition is due to appear this fall in the United States. A wide audience has also been attracted to his most recent and most controversial volume of new poems, FOR MY BROTHER JESUS. This book underlines the fact that for Mr. Layton, poetry involves a commitment to the most serious moral and political issues of our day.
It is particularly appropriate on this occasion, however, that we take note of another dimension of Mr. Layton's career. Thousands of people, many of them Montrealers, know him as a gifted teacher for whom they retain the highest respect and the warmest affection and gratitude. He began as a tutor in the 1930's teaching English to immigrants. In the 40's he taught at the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish Teachers' Seminary, the Ross Tutorial and the Jewish Public Library. After obtaining his Master's Degree in Political Science from McGill University he joined the staff of Herzliah High School where he taught from 1946 to 1960. From 1963 to 1965 he taught Adult Education classes at the YM YWCA. For fifteen years, until 1965, he taught the evening division at Sir George and in 1967 he was appointed as Poet in Residence at this institution. He later held a similar post at the University of Guelph. In 1969 he accepted a full-time position as Professor of English at York University in Toronto where he still lives and teaches. He has made time, however, in his busy schedule, to commute to Montreal to teach a course at the Saidye Bronfman Centre each year since 1974.
Mr. Layton has earned his living as a teacher but it is clear from the response of his students over the years that for him teaching is a labour of love to which he devotes many hours of his day, in or out of the classroom, with or without pay. There is no Governor General's Award for good teaching; if there were, Irving Layton would be a candidate. I therefore suggest that we take this opportunity to pay public tribute to Irving Layton in his dual roles as teacher and poet.
Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, on behalf of the Senate, and by authority of the Board of Governors, Irving Layton, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.