Born in Quebec City, Quebec, she was educated at a convent school and at Université Laval. It was at Laval that she met Jeanne Lapointe and Father Georges Lévesque, who encouraged her to write and, in 1959, to publish her first novel, La Belle Bête (trans. Mad Shadows) in 1959 when she turned 20. She has since written over 20 novels, several plays, collections of poetry and fiction, as well newspaper articles. Her works have been translated into numerous languages, including English and Chinese. With the support of the eminent American critic Edmund Wilson, Blais won two Guggenheim Fellowships.
In 1963, Blais moved to the United States, initially living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, in 1964, she met her partner, American artist Mary Meigs. Marie-Claire Blais was working on her second and third novels, Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel and Les manuscrits de Pauline Archange. (Her first, La belle bête, rocked Quebec in 1959; Ms. Blais figures prominently in Mr. Wilson's 1965 book On Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture.) Ms. Meigs began a tempestuous affair with Ms. Blais, and moved to Montreal in the mid-1970s; she and Ms. Blais lived with each other on and off over the next 15 or so years. Fluent in French, a respected painter -- she illustrated several of Ms. Blais's works, including Emmanuel and Pauline Archange -- and as Ms. Blais's long-time companion, she moved easily in both French and English artistic communities.
Marie-Claire Blais later relocated to Wellfleet on Cape Cod. In 1975, after two years living in Brittany, she moved back to Quebec with her partner. For about twenty years she divided her time between Montreal, the Eastern Townships of Quebec and Key West, Florida.
Much of Blais' writing has been in the form of social commentary, with intermixed elements of good and evil in settings part real, and part fantasy. Her works lean toward the tragic, within a hostile society of vice and violence. The strength of Blais' writing ability is rewarding to the reader in spite of the darker aspects of her themes.
In 1972 she became a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Her works La Belle Bête (1959), Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (1965) and Le Sourd dans la ville (1979), have been adapted for the cinema.
Canadian film director Karim Hussain adapted La Belle Bête in 2006. He won the Director's Award at the Boston Underground Film Festival's for the film.
Mad Shadows (New Canadian Library) by Marie-Claire Blais
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: New Canadian Library (August 12, 2008)
Amazon: Mad Shadows
A harrowing pathology of the soul, Mad Shadows centres on a family group: Patrice, the beautiful and narcissistic son; his ugly and malicious sister, Isabelle-Marie; and Louise, their vain and uncomprehending mother. These characters inhabit an amoral universe where beauty reflects no truth and love is an empty delusion. Each character is ultimately annihilated by their own obsessions.
Acclaimed and reviled when it exploded on the Quebec literary scene in 1959, Mad Shadows initiated a new era in Quebec fiction.
Mai at the Predators' Ball by Marie-Claire Blais
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: House of Anansi Press (June 26, 2012)
Amazon: Mai at the Predators' Ball
In Mai at the Predators' Ball, Marie-Claire Blais, literary legend and four-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, offers a mesmerizing and unforgettable portrait of imaginary beings who seem to embrace the whole of humanity.
Every night in the Saloon, after darkness falls, a group of boys are transformed into creatures we see only in dreams. They adorn themselves in colourful dresses and wigs and they take to the stage to sing and dance. They open their arms to those who are excluded — both men and women, triumphant and threatened, both free and bound — and every evening is a carnival of freedom and transgression.
With this masterful novel, Blais invites us to share the drama of perfect joy, the tragedy of happiness, and she gives us her best work yet.
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel (Exile Classics series) by Marie-Claire Blais
Paperback: 164 pages
Publisher: Exile Editions (April 1, 2009)
Amazon: A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
Following the life of newborn infant, Emmanuel, this great contemporary novel of Quebec exposes a painful history central to the new consciousness that emerged in the 1960s known as “the quiet revolution.” The story of Emmanuel and his 15 brothers and sisters spotlights the grinding poverty under the mental regime of the Catholic Church at its least enlightened and most inescapable. This insightful narrative documents the hardships and cruelties of their social condition with dark humor and passionate imagination as they endeavor to survive harsh schools, dreary convents, and hunger.