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Adele Wiseman

1928 – 1992

by Michael Brown

One of Canada’s most highly regarded writers of the second half of the twentieth century, Wiseman was born in Winnipeg to Pesach (1894–1978) and Chaika (née Rosenberg, 1896–1980) Waisman (later Wiseman). The Wisemans, who had immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine in 1923, were part of the secular, Yiddishist world of Winnipeg’s North End, where Adele’s father was a tailor and her mother a homemaker. Adele’s schooling began at the I. L. Peretz secular Jewish school.

In the multi-ethnic and deeply prejudiced Winnipeg of Wiseman’s youth, the future author found that admitting to being Jewish turned her “into an instant monster” in the eyes of other children. Solace was to be found in the family and in the world of books. Both were lifetime commitments. She earned her B.A. in English Literature and Psychology from the University of Manitoba in 1949.

From 1950 to 1952, Wiseman lived abroad, writing her first novel, The Sacrifice. To make ends meet, she accepted employment as a group leader at the Stepney Jewish Girls’ Club and Settlement in London and as a teacher and summer camp vice-superintendent at the Overseas School in Rome. She then returned to Canada, working at a number of jobs while polishing her manuscript. A somewhat bizarre tale of a butcher turned murderer, The Sacrifice (New York and Toronto, 1956) was one of the first novels in English to deal with the Holocaust, albeit obliquely, and it expressed a harsh critique of traditional Jewish theology.

Partly because she was never free from financial insecurity—even after marriage to Dmitry Stone in 1969—Wiseman was not a prolific author. Her second novel, Crackpot, was published in Toronto eighteen years after The Sacrifice. Her other books are Old Markets, New World (Toronto, 1964), an illustrated essay on the farmers’ market in Winnipeg’s North End; Old Woman at Play (Toronto, 1978), a memoir and meditation on creativity, focusing on her mother, that was written for children and adapted for the stage; and Memoirs of a Book Molesting Childhood and Other Essays (Toronto, 1987). Over the years, she wrote plays, poems, and stories for children, not all of which were published. A collection of letters between Wiseman and Margaret Laurence (1926–1987), another of Canada’s foremost writers and a friend and contemporary from Winnipeg, appeared after her death (Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence and Adele Wiseman [Toronto, 1997]), as did a memorial volume, We Who Can Fly (Dunvegan, Ontario, 1997), edited by Elizabeth Greene.

As her literary reputation grew, Wiseman became an increasingly sought after teacher. She taught or served as writer in residence at the University of Manitoba, Macdonald College of McGill University, Sir George Williams (now Concordia) and Trent universities, the universities of Western Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Windsor, and the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Montreal YM-YWHA. From 1987 to 1991 she headed the Writing Programme at the Banff Centre. She also participated in the Yaddo Writers Colony in Saratoga Springs and the MacDowell Writers Colony in New Hampshire.

Wiseman received many honors and awards for her writing. These included the Governor General’s Award for Fiction (1956); the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority Award (1957); the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1957); Canadian Foundation (1957) and Guggenheim (1958) fellowships; a Canada Council Arts Scholarship (1959); the Leipzig Book Fair Bronze Medal (1964); the Canadian Booksellers Association Book Award (1974); the J. I. Segal Foundation Award (1974 and 1988); and the Three Guineas Charitable Foundation Agency Award (1984–1985). In 1989, the University of Manitoba conferred upon her an honorary LL.D.

Wiseman’s marriage dissolved in 1990. She had one daughter, Tamara Reesa Esther Bliss Stone (b. 1969). Her siblings were Miriam (Distler), a professor of chemistry at McGill University, Harry, a professor of engineering in the United States, and Morris, and a foster brother, Greg Feher, a Hungarian war orphan who joined the family after World War II.

More on: Teachers, Fiction

How to cite this page

Brown, Michael. "Adele Wiseman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wiseman-adele>.

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