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George Mackay Brown Biography

(1921–96), Loaves and Fishes, The Year of the Whale, Winterfold, The Wreck of the Archangel

British poet and novelist, born in Stromness, Orkney, educated at Stromness Academy and Newbattle Abbey College, Dalkeith, where Edwin Muir, warden of the college, encouraged him as a poet. He later gained an MA at the University of Edinburgh. Loaves and Fishes (1959), his first substantial collection of verse, was followed by numerous volumes, including The Year of the Whale (1965), Winterfold (1976), and The Wreck of the Archangel (1989). The landscapes, history, and communities of Orkney are imaginatively transposed in his verse and prose into the archives of ‘Hamnavoe’, as his native islands are known in his work. Fishermen with Ploughs (1971), a poetic sequence surveying developments from the time of the Vikings to the modern age, is his most concentrated historical treatment of the locality. At the centre of his work is a visionary sense of the sacrosanctity of ancient patterns of life and their interaction with unspoilt natural surroundings. Stylistically, his poetry is notable for the extreme refinement and clarity of its diction and rhythms, a characteristic apparent in forms ranging from highly disciplined free verse to robust ballad stanzas. Selected Poems 1954–1983 appeared in 1991. A Calendar of Love (1967) was the first of his several collections of short stories, which also include the highly acclaimed A Time To Keep (1969), The Sun's Net (1976), and Winter Tales (1996). His work in prose forms an extension of the narrative impulse which is often apparent in his poetry; many of his stories evoke an ideal of community in a richly fluent style of great strength and simplicity. Greenvoe (1972) is the best known of his novels, others being Magnus (1973), centring on the martyrdom of St Magnus, Vinland (1992), which richly evokes the Viking era, and Beside the Ocean of Time (1994). Among Brown's several collections of essays are Letters from Hamnavoe (1975) and Under Brinkie's Brae (1979), which contains selections from his journalism. His published work as a dramatist includes Three Plays (1984), which collects The Loom of Light, The Voyage of St Brandon, and The Well.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bridgnorth Shropshire to Anthony Burgess [John Anthony Burgess Wilson Burgess] Biography