91 Dr. Rosemary Sullivan, O.C. FRSC.

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  • Rosemary Sullivan O.C. was born in the town of Valois on Lac St. Louis just outside Montreal. Her paternal grandfather arrived from Ireland around 1916. On her mother’s side, Rosemary’s family stretches back to 1847 in County Sligo. Her ancestors settled on a farm in Smiths Falls, Ontario. A chance meeting with Beatrice Roethke led Rosemary to write and later publish The Garden Master. In 1972, with a PhD, she headed to France to teach, first at the University of Dijon and then the University of Bordeaux. After two years, she was hired at the University of Victoria, BC. In 1977, Rosemary got a job at the University of Toronto, and has been teaching there since. In 1978, after taking leave of academia to devote herself to writing, Rosemary lived in London where she befriended Elizabeth Smart.  
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  •  She then joined Amnesty International and later founded the Toronto Arts Group for Human Rights and conceived and organized an International Congress called The Writer and Human Rights in aid of Amnesty International. Seventy writers from forty countries attended.  In 1982, Rosemary joined the editorial board of This Magazine, where, having become fascinated by Latin American culture and politics, she wrote articles about her travels to Chile, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua. She met her present husband, Chilean actor-musician Juan Opitz, in Toronto. Her first collection of poems, The Space a Name Makes (1986) won the Gerald Lampert Award for the Best First Book of Poetry. In 1987, she was commissioned by Penguin Books to write a biography of Elizabeth Smart. Falling in love with the genre of biography, Rosemary wrote Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen (1995) and The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out (1998). In her mind, these works formed a trilogy about the creative lives of women artists. In collaboration with photographer Malcolm Batty, Rosemary wrote Cuba: Grace Under Pressure. At the University of Toronto, Rosemary was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Literature, and in 2003, founded the new MA program in English in the field of Creative Writing, whose young writers are beginning to assert themselves on the national scene. From 2003-2006, Rosemary held the Maclean Hunter Chair in Literary Journalism at the Banff Centre. A profound encounter with the Mexican painter Leonora Carrington in 1995 planted the early seeds for the book that she would publish in 2006 called Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and A House in Marseille. The book is an experiment in biographical history and offers multiple portraits of refugee artists trapped in Vichy France during World War II.  Four years of intense research involved trips to France, the U.S., and Mexico. 
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  •  In the fall of 2005, Rosemary and Juan spent three months at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, where she completed her book and he worked on his first film, The Road Out, a 15-minute documentary about the residents of Villa Air-Bel. Villa Air-Bel came out simultaneously in Canada, the U.S., and England and was published in Spain, Italy, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.  Her family memoir The Guthrie Road, which traces her Irish ancestry back to 1847, was published in 2009.   Rosemary traveled across Canada and into the US, attending international book festivals and giving readings in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, Miami and New York, and speaking at venues like the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Miami Book Fair and the 92nd Street Y.  In June 2007, Villa Air-Bel was awarded The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Award in Holocaust History by the Helen and Stan Vine Annual Canadian Jewish Book Awards.She was a Fellow of the prestigious Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in 1908. 
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  • Her biography of Elizabeth Smart, By Heart was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction and Shadow Maker won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction, The Canadian Authors’ Association Prize for Non-fiction, the University of British Columbia President’s Medal for Canadian Biography, The City of Toronto Book Prize, 1996, and was short-listed for Ontario Trillium Prize. Rosemary was also awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for Major Contributions to Canadian Literature and Culture by the Royal Society of Canada in 2008.