George McWhirter

George McWhirter is an Irish Canadian writer, translator, editor, teacher, and Vancouver, Canada’s first poet laureate. He earned both his BA and DipEd from Queen’s University in Belfast, where he was classmates in Honours English with the poets Seamus Deane, Seamus Heaney, and the Irish literary critic Robert Dunbar. He earned his MA from the University of British Columbia. 

McWhirter’s poetry collections include The Anachronicles (Ronsdale Press, 2008); The Incorrection (Oolichan Books, 2007); The Book of Contradictions (Oolichan Books, 2002); Incubus: The Dark Side of the Light (Oberon Press, 1997); A Staircase For All Souls (Oolichan Books, 1996); Fire Before Dark (Oberon, 1983); The Island Man (Oberon Press, 1981); Twenty-Five (Fiddlehead Editions, 1978); Queen of the Sea (Oberon Press, 1976); and Catalan Poems (Oberon Press, 1971), a recipient in 1972 of the first  Commonwealth Poetry Prize, which he shared with the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. McWhirter’s poetry has also appeared in numerous anthologies, including Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century (Cork University Press, 2000), edited by David Pierce; Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (University of Texas Press, 1996), edited by Stephen Tapscott; and two editions of The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse.

McWhirter has translated works by Mario Arregui, Carlos Fuentes, Homero AridjisJosé Emilio Pacheco, and Gabriel Zaid. McWhirter won the 2024 Griffin Poetry Prize for his translation of Aridjis’s Self-Portrait in the Zone of Silence (New Directions, 2023). He has been translating Aridjis’s work since 1987, including The Selected Poems of Homero Aridjis, 1966–2000 (Carcanet/New Directions, 2002).

McWhirter has also published three novels: The Listeners (Oberon 1991); Paula Lake (Oberon Press, 1985); and Cage (Oberon 1987), which was a recipient of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the British Columbia Book Awards in 1988. In addition to novels, he has six collections of short stories, which includes The Gift of Women (Exile Editions, 2015).

McWhirter’s other honors include the 1969 Macmillan Prize for Poetry, the F. R. Scott Translation Prize, the 1998 Killam Prize for Teaching, and, in 2004, the first Killam Prize for Mentoring at the University of British Columbia. 

McWhirter arrived Canada in 1966 and first taught high school in Port Alberni. He served as the managing editor of Prism international magazine from 1968 to 1969, then as poetry editor (1970–76), coeditor (1975–76), and advisory editor (1977–2002). He was also the editor of Words from the Inside, a Canadian Prison Arts magazine, from 1974 to 1975. After earning his master’s degree, he stayed at the University of British Columbia, where he eventually became a full professor and head of the creative writing department from 1983 until 1993. He is currently a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia.