Elizabeth Smart (Canadian author) : biography

December 27, 1913 - March 4, 1986

It was during this time that Smart produced what would become her best-known work, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Just 2000 copies were published in 1945, and it did not achieve popularity until a good deal later. It is a fictional work, largely based on Smart's affair with Barker up until that point. "The power of emotion to transform one’s perspective on the world," a recent Open Letters Monthly review of the novel writes, "is the theme of this wildly poetic novel. The inspiration for Smart’s classic work of prose poetry is just as famous as the book itself.Ingrid Norton. "Elizabeth Smart, Queen of Sheba" Open Letters Monthly, October 1st 2010 http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/year-with-short-novels-elizabeth-smart-queen-of-sheba/

Smart's socially conscious mother Louise ("Louie") was not pleased with the book. Again availing influence with government officials, she led a successful campaign to have its publication banned in Canada. Of those copies that made their way into the country from overseas, Louise Smart bought up as many as she could find and had them burned.

Barker visited Smart often in London where she worked. She became pregnant again, and was fired from the Ministry of Information. Their affair produced two more children (Sebastian, born 1945, and Rose Emma, born 1947). Through it all Barker, who was Catholic, said he would leave his wife for Smart, but this never happened (he was to have fifteen children by several different women). They lived a bohemian lifestyle and associated with many of the 'Soho' artists. Christopher Barker writing in the Guardian about this period: “On many occasions through the early Sixties, writers and painters such as David Gascoyne, Paddy Kavanagh, Roberts MacBryde and Colquhoun and Paddy Swift [Swift lived downstairs from Smart and his wife, Agnes, wrote cookbooks with Smart] would gather at Westbourne Terrace in Paddington, our family home at that time. They came for editorial discussions about their poetry magazine, X."

In addition to the unconventional nature of the relationship, the affair was fraught with turmoil. Barker was a heavy drinker and Smart took up the habit, which intensified when the two were together. The couple were involved in numerous fights; during one argument, Smart bit off part of Barker's upper lip. Nonetheless, as evidenced from writings in her journals, Smart's love for Barker continued for the remainder of her life.

Single mother and writer

Raising four children on her own, Smart worked for thirteen years as an advertising copywriter. She then joined the staff of Queen magazine in 1963, later becoming an editor. She became at length the highest-paid copywriter in England. During this time her physical involvement with Barker waned; she lived a bohemian lifestyle in Soho and took several other lovers, some men and some women.

Meanwhile, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept had been circulating in London and New York, acquiring a cult following that led to its paperback reissue in 1966 and critical acclaim. In the same year, Smart retired from commercial writing and relocated to a cottage in north Suffolk named "The Dell".

It was at The Dell that she produced the bulk of her literary work, much of which has been published posthumously. Eager to make up for the time away from creative writing forced by the demands of raising her children, Smart wrote voluminously and on a number of subjects, poetry and prose, even her passionate love of gardening.

In 1977, following a 32-year absence from the book world, she published two new works, The Assumption of the Rogues & Rascals and a small collection of poetry, titled A Bonus. In the Meantime (1984), a collection of Smart's unpublished poetry and prose, and her two volumes of journals, Necessary Secrets: The Journals of Elizabeth Smart (1986).

Smart returned to Canada for a brief stay from 1982 to 1983, becoming writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. Afterward she spent a year in Toronto on a Canada Council writer's grant before returning to England. In 1986 she died in London of a heart attack. She is buried in St George's churchyard, Saint Cross South Elmham, Suffolk.

An hour long documentary, "Elizabeth Smart: On the Side of the Angels"(1991) by Maya Gallus starred renowned actor Jackie Burroughs as Elizabeth Smart and was narrated by author Michael Ondaatje. 'On The Side of the Angels', her journals (1994), brought further, posthumous critical appreciation.

Living octopus

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