Acclaimed Canadian writer receives honorary doctor of letters

By in News

On Oct. 22, one of Canada’s most accomplished writers, William Deverell, will receive an honorary doctor of letters from the University of Saskatchewan, an achievement that stands out for Deverell, as he attended the university and received his law degree in the early 1960s.

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Activist and crime writer William Deverell in his British Columnia office.

Born in Regina, Deverell moved to Saskatoon a few years before beginning classes at the U of S. While attending university, he established himself as an activist and journalist, working for the Sheaf as well as the StarPhoenix throughout his years in Saskatoon. Deverell received his law degree in 1963 and went on to work as a trial lawyer focusing on criminal and civil rights law. He published his first novel in 1979 and has since published 17 more novels.

Although Deverell has already received an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University, he explains that receiving the honorary doctor of letters from the U of S has a different feeling.

“This is special because it’s from my alma matter, where I took my first class on creative writing and got my law degree … I have so many fond memories of Saskatoon and the U of S,” Deverell said.

One such memory for Deverell is his time as editor of the Sheaf in 1959.

“I was a bit of a student activist — the years that I was involved with the Sheaf were fairly controversial years,” he said.

As well as editing the Sheaf, Deverell worked as an editor at night for the StarPhoenix, which kept him busy but also taught him the value of hard work.

“I worked my way through university [and] I worked nights at the StarPhoenix … It instilled a work ethic in me that’s lasted to today,” he said.

After receiving his law degree, Deverell worked as a trial lawyer in Vancouver, serving as a counsellor in both criminal and civil rights trials throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, Deverell took some time to begin his long and successful career as a novelist.

“Writing novels was always a dream of mine, even when I was in high school … I was always trying to write short stories,” he said.

In 1979, his first novel, Needles, was published. This debut novel was the winner of the Seal First Novel Award and the Book of the Year Award. As publishing a novel was a lifelong dream for Deverell, the positive reception and high acclaim of his first novel was a proud moment in his career.

“The achievement of my dream of being a published writer — that event in 1979 — my publisher called me to ask if I would come for a ceremony to honour me for winning the Seal First Novel Award and get a cheque for $50,000. That was probably the highlight of my career,” Deverell said.

Since his first novel, Deverell has received myriad other awards for his novels, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. In addition, two of his novels were finalists for the Stephen Leacock Prize for Humour. Despite all of these awards, Deverell feels his most satisfying accomplishment is the life that he has created by doing what he enjoys.

“Being able to create a comfortable life as I have … and being able to write in peace — I feel a sense of accomplishment in that I have not ever fallen into a rut,” he said.

Deverell has a new novel coming out next year, and he is still working on another at the same time. Even with these two pending novels, he is not ruling out any new projects in his future and remains active in many different areas.

“Whatever comes my way, I’ll look at. I’m still active in environmental issues and speeches that have to be made or writing about important causes,” he said. “I’m involved in both civil rights and environmental issues. So we’ll see what comes along.”

Lyndsay Afseth

Photo: William Deverell / Supplied