Mitchell, Ken (1940-)

Kenneth Ronald Mitchell, one of Saskatchewan’s best-known writers and playwrights, was born in Moose Jaw on December 13, 1940. He attended the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus (precursor to the University of Regina). During his university years, Mitchell wrote for the Regina Leader-Post and served as editor of the university newspaper, The Carillon.

The prairies and their people make up a continual topic of Mitchell’s work. His first novel, Wandering Rafferty (1972), was set in Regina’s beer parlour circuit. Successive novels and plays have told stories of foreign spies, confidence men, Tommy Douglas, and Norman Bethune. Mitchell’s first stage play, Heroes, was first presented in England in 1972. Since then, it has been produced over fifty times in Canada, the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and Turkey. In total, Mitchell’s body of work includes over twenty books and a score of stage plays. He has written for television and film, and his poems, stories and articles have been published in a variety of anthologies and collections.

For one of his better known works, Cruel Tears (1975), Mitchell took inspiration from William Shakespeare, writing a script based on Othello. This was set to music, creating a Canadian opera using contemporary country and western music. It became one of the first plays from the prairies to receive critical praise on the national level. His work in film includes The Hounds of Notre Dame (1981); the screenplay for this story of a small hockey town was nominated for a Genie award.

Mitchell has taught English at the University of Regina since 1967. He has held numerous visiting professorships in Canada, the United Kingdom, and China. From 1970 to 1975, he was director of creative writing at the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts.

Mitchell has played an active role on the Canadian literary scene. In 1969, he helped establish the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild and served as its first chairman. He was the founding editor of the prairie literary magazine, Grain, and helped establish the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre in 1982. In recognition of his work in the literary arts, Mitchell was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1999 and received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2001.

Further Reading

Currie, Robert (ed.). 1984. Ken Mitchell Country. Regina: Coteau Books; Kerr, Don and Diane Bessai (eds.). 1992. Rebels in Time: Three Plays by Ken Mitchell. Edmonton: NeWest Press; Mitchell, Ken. 1972. Wandering Rafferty. Toronto: Macmillan.