Tremblay grew up in the Plateau Mont-Royal, a French-speaking neighbourhood of Montreal, at the time of his birth a neighbourhood with a working-class character and joual dialect, something that would heavily influence his work. Tremblay's first professionally produced play, Les Belles-Sœurs, was written in 1965 and premiered at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert on August 28, 1968. Its impact was huge, bringing down the old guard of Canadian theatre and introducing joual to the mainstream. It stirred up controversy by portraying the lives of working class women and attacking the straight-laced, deeply religious society of mid-20th century Quebec.
The most profound and lasting effects of Tremblay's early plays, including Hosanna and La Duchesse de Langeais, were the barriers they toppled in Quebec society. Until the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, Tremblay saw Quebec as a poor, working-class province dominated by an English-speaking elite and the Roman Catholic Church. Tremblay's work was part of a vanguard of liberal, nationalist thought that helped create an essentially modern society.
His most famous plays are usually centered on homosexual characters. The women are usually strong but possessed with demons they must vanquish. It is said he sees Quebec as a matriarchal society. He is considered one of the best playwrights for women.
In the late 1980s, Les Belles-soeurs ("The Sisters-in-Law") was produced in Scotland in Scots, as The Guid-Sisters ("guid-sister" being Scots for "sister-in-law"). His work has been translated into many languages, including Yiddish, and including such works as Sainte-Carmen de la Main, Ç'ta ton tour, Laura Cadieux, and Forever Yours, Marilou (À toi pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou).
He has been openly gay throughout his public life, and he has written many novels (The Duchess and the Commoner, La nuit des princes charmants, Le Coeur découvert, Le Coeur éclaté) and plays (Hosanna, La duchesse de Langeais, Fragments de mensonges inutiles) centred on gay characters. In a 1987 interview with Shelagh Rogers for CBC Radio's The Arts Tonight, he remarked that he has always avoided behaviours he has considered masculine; for example, he does not smoke and he noted that he was 45 years old and did not know how to drive a car. "I think I am a rare breed," he said, "A homosexual who doesn't like men." He claims one of his biggest regrets in life was not telling his mother that he was gay, before she died.
His latest play to receive wide acclaim is For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again, a funny and nostalgic play, centered on the memories of his mother.
He later published the Plateau Mont-Royal Chronicles, a cycle of six novels including The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant (La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte, 1978) and The Duchess and the Commoner (La duchesse et le roturier, 1982).
The second novel of this series, Therese and Pierrette and the Little Hanging Angel (Thérèse et Pierrette à l'école des Saints-Anges, 1980), was one of the novels chosen for inclusion in the French version of Canada Reads, Le combat des livres, broadcast on Radio-Canada in 2005, where it was championed by union activist Monique Simard.
Tremblay worked also on a television series entitled Le Cœur découvert (The Heart Laid Bare), about the lives of a gay couple in Quebec, for the French-language TV network Radio-Canada.
In 2005 he completed another novel cycle, the Cahiers (Le Cahier noir (translated as The Black Notebook), Le Cahier rouge, Le Cahier bleu), dealing with the changes that occurred in 1960s Montreal during the Quiet Revolution.
In 2009 The Fat Woman Next Door was a finalist in CBC's prestigious Canada Reads competition.
For many years, Tremblay has believed that the only reasonable solution for Quebec is to separate from Canada. Once the Parti Québécois was elected in Quebec, he softened his views on allowing his plays to be produced in English there. He made it clear, however, that that did not mean that he agreed with bilingualism, calling it "stupid" and stating that he thought it ridiculous to expect a housewife in Vancouver to be fluent in both English and French.
Despite his often outspoken views in public, Tremblay's treatment of politics in his plays is subtle. Speaking of politics and the theatre in an CBC interview in 1978, Tremblay said:
"I know what I want in the theatre. I want a real political theatre, but I know that political theatre is dull. I write fables."In April 2006 he declared that he did not support the arguments put forward for the separation of Quebec. But he clarified his thoughts some time later by saying he was still a supporter of Quebec sovereignty, though critical of the actual state of the debate, which in his opinion was too much focused on economic issues. In response to this, the columnist Marc Cassivi of La Presse wrote that "there was only one closet a Quebec artist could never exit and that was the federalist one."
Tremblay has received numerous awards in recognition of his work. These include the Prix Victor-Morin (1974), the Prix France-Québec (1984), the Chalmers Award (1986) and the Molson Prize (1994).
He received the Lieutenant-Governor's award for Ontario in 1976 and 1977. Tremblay was named the "Montréalais le plus remarquable des deux dernières décennies dans le domaine du théâtre" (the most remarkable Montrealer of the past two decades in theatre) (1978). In 1991 he was appointed Officier de l'Ordre de France, and in the same year, Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Québec. He is also a recipient of the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France (1994).
In 1999, he received a Governor General's Award for the Performing Arts. This produced controversy when several well-known Quebec nationalists suggested that he should refuse the award. While he did not do this, he did admit, for the first time, that he had refused the Order of Canada in 1990.
In 2000, Encore une fois, si vous le permettez (For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again) won a Chalmers Award and a Dora Mavor Moore Award.
The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Talonbooks; 1 edition (January 1, 1981)
Amazon: The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant
It is the glorious second day of May, 1942. The sun is drawing the damp from earth still heavy with the end of a long Quebec winter, the budding branches of the trees along rue Fabre and in Parc Lafontaine of the Plateau Mont Royal ache to release their leaves into the warm, clear air heralding the approach of summer.
Seven women in this raucous Francophone working-class Montreal neighbourhood are pregnant—only one of them, “the fat woman,” is bearing a child of true love and affection. Next door to the home that is by times refuge, asylum, circus-arena, confessional and battleground to her extended family, with ancient roots in both rural Quebec and the primordial land of the Saskatchewan Cree, stands an immaculately kept but seemingly empty house where the fates, Rose, Mauve, Violet and their mother Florence, only ever fleetingly and uncertainly glimpsed by those in a state of emotional extremis, are knitting the booties of what will become the children of a whole new nation.
In this first of six novels that became his Chronicles of the Plateau Mont Royal, Tremblay allows his imagination free reign, fictionalizing the lives of his beloved characters, dramatized so brilliantly in his plays and remembered so poignantly in his memoirs.“The fat woman” both is and is not Michel Tremblay’s mother—her extended family and neighbours more than a symbol of a colonized people: abandoned and mocked by France; conquered and exploited by England; abused and terrorized by the Church; and forced into a war by Canada supporting the very powers that have crushed their spirit and twisted their souls since time immemorial. This is a “divine comedy” of the extraordinary triumphs and tragedies of ordinary people caught up by circumstances that span the range of the ridiculous to the sublime.
The Heart Laid Bare by Michel Tremblay
Paperback: 258 pages
Publisher: Talonbooks; 1 edition (March 15, 2002)
Amazon: The Heart Laid Bare
Talonbooks is pleased to announce a new edition of one of Michel Tremblay’s most unusual novels. First published in English translation by M&S in 1989 under the title The Heart Laid Bare [Le coeur découvert, Leméac, 1986], British and American rights to this novel were sold to Serpent’s Tail, who published this same book under a different title, Making Room, which is now out of print.
This new Talonbooks edition proudly restores this novel to its rightful place in Tremblay’s sweeping and compassionate imagination of human sensibility and passion.
Jean-Marc has fallen in love. The object of his affection is Mathieu, a young actor working as a salesman at Eaton’s while waiting for his big break. As a dowry to their new relationship, Mathieu brings Sébastien, his son. Jean-Marc, a fusty academic, is not sure about being able to make room in his life for this four-year-old boy.
While daring, for some even shocking when it first appeared in the 1980s, this story has, like Tremblay’s entire ouevre, stood the test of time and revealed itself to be a work of both enduring and prophetic vision
The Heart Laid Bare marks a significant departure for Michel Tremblay, because it is the first of his mature novels which is not set in the semi-autobiographical milieu of his childhood. Yet this thoroughly contemporary love story is told with all the warmth and empathy that is so characteristic of all of his other work.
Birth of a Bookworm by Michel Tremblay
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Talonbooks; 1 edition (March 15, 2003)
Amazon: Birth of a Bookworm
In Birth of a Bookworm, Michel Tremblay takes the reader on a tour of the books that have had a formative influence on the birth and early development of his creative imagination. Included are his readings of and reactions to some of the great classics of world literature by such writers as the Comtesse de Ségur, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and, above all, the Brothers Grimm. One of the great moments in this very personal voyage of literary discovery is Tremblay’s astonishingly revelatory and prescient account of a summer spent regaling his little friends with his invented alternate endings to the story of Snow White. Here, more than anywhere else, do we get a sense of an author emerging from the received magic of his encounters with stories, and discovering his own need to tell them anew, with the fresh, contemporary sensibility of his own time, place and circumstance.
As in the other two volumes in “the education of Michel Tremblay”—his memoir of the formative films in his life, Bambi and Me, and his first encounters with the world of the theatre, Twelve Opening Acts — Birth of a Bookworm is first and foremost a love story of Michel for his muses, ushered into his life and hovered over with the acute care and concern of his match-making mother. As in all of Tremblay’s work, the physical and emotional world of his childhood is celebrated as the fertile ground on which his new, vivid way of seeing and imagining is built.
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