Memorable Manitobans: John Marlyn (1912-2005)
Born at Dubrecin, Austria-Hungary (now Serbia) on 2 April 1912, he came to Winnipeg with his parents (family name Mihaelovitcz) as an infant and grew up there. During the Depression-era 1930s, when jobs were hard to find, he secured a position as a script reader for a film studio in England. Just before the Second World War, he returned to Canada and worked as a writer for the Canadian government in Ottawa, Ontario. He also taught creative writing at Carleton University (1963–1967).
His early writings were in the form of science fiction stories, which he published under the pseudonym Vincent Reid, but his first novel, Under the Ribs of Death (1957), won critical acclaim and earned a Beta Sigma Phi award. The book is set in Winnipeg’s North End and tells the story of the life of a poor immigrant in the 1920s and his self-reinvention. Marlyn was one of the first Canadian writers to dramatize the social dislocation and alienation experienced by newcomers, his novel described as one of “genuine social protest.” He went on to publish Putzi, I Love You, You Little Square (1981) and The Baker’s Daughter (2000). His papers were acquired by the University of Calgary in 1987.
Of his youth in Winnipeg, he said, “I grew up … on the edge of the North End. We were very poor, but not in the important things. We felt that our family was a rampart against the fire which was raging outside—the poverty, crime, and prostitution. Learning was encouraged; it was important in almost all immigrant families, not only in order to get a job, but for its own sake. Teachers were not only respected but venerated. My brothers went out on the street, but I sat at home and read books … Dickens, Scott, Tennyson, Gray.”
In later years, he lived at the Canary Islands and died there on 16 November 2005.
“An Interview with John Marlyn”, Beverly Rasporich, Canadian Ethnic Studies, 1982.
The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, second edition, 1997, pages 742–743.
“Vincent Reid”, Antiqbook.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 5 April 2022