Henry Beissel is a poet, playwright, essayist, translator and editor who now lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Franciere.
After completing his graduate work at the University of Toronto in 1960, Henry taught English literature as a specialist in the medieval and modern periods for 36 years. From 1960 to 1962 he taught at the University of Munich in Germany. From there he went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and from 1964 -1966 he was Canadian Aid Professor at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. In 1966, he joined the English faculty at Sir George Williams, now Concordia, University, in Montreal, where he established the Creative Writing program that is still flourishing. He became a Full Professor in 1976, and was promoted to Distinguished Emeritus Professor upon his retirement in 1996.
His commitment to writing first came to national attention through the controversial political and literary journal Edge he founded in Edmonton, Alberta, and edited from 1963 to 1969. Since then he has over thirty publications to his credit that have received high critical acclaim in Canada and abroad. His versatility as a writer is evident even in a partial list of them: 18 volumes of poetry; 6 books of plays, both for adults and for young audiences; translations from the works of Bauer, Huchel, Ibsen, Mrozek, Dorst and Sophocles; fiction and non-fiction; a book on Canada; a Festschrift for Irving Layton; two anthologies of plays for High Schools. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Throughout his years at university, Henry wrote and published poems and plays that gradually established his international reputation. Critics and fellow poets have acclaimed his poetry.
Henry’s most successful play, Inuk and the Sun, has been performed in many parts of the world. Sherrill Grace in Canada: the Idea of North (2001) refers to the play as “a mythic masterpiece”. It has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, a.o.
Henry has read from his work across Canada as well as in the USA, South and Central America, Europe, Africa, and China. In November 1994 he was awarded the first Walter Bauer Literaturpreis in Germany for his translations of Bauer’s poetry and for his own literary oeuvre. More recently, in October 2006, he received First Prize in Poetry for The Jade Canoe in an international competition adjudicated by the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. In 2008, he was awarded the Naji Naaman Literary Prize for his long poem, “Where Shall the Birds fly?” and became an honorary member of the Maison Naaman pour la Culture in Beirut, Lebanon.
Henry continues to write steadily – poems, plays, fiction and essays. He is currently involved with Third Wall Theatre in Ottawa, for whom he adapted and translated Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in 2009. He wrote a modern version of Sophocles’ Antigone for the company in 2011. Both plays were performed to much critical and audience acclaim. He published two volumes of poetry in 2011: Seasons of Blood, and Coming to Terms with a Child, and his new collection, Fugitive Horizons, was published by Guernica Editions in the winter of 2013.
Henry is an excellent reader and makes himself available for readings in Canada and abroad whenever he is asked. In June of 2011, June 2012 and June of 2013, he read and talked to hundreds of enthusiastic students at over a dozen German universities at the invitation of their Canadian Studies programs.