Peter Cumming (1951–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1951, in Brampton, Ontario, Canada; Education: Wilfrid Laurier University, B.A., 1972; McGill University, diploma in education, 1976; University of Guelph, M.A., 1992; University of Western Ontario, Ph.D., 2002.
Office—York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada.
Actor and director with Youtheatre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and of Village Theatre and Real Canadian Mounted Theatre, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1970–76; Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, resident artist in drama, 1972–73; Entry Island School, Magdalen Islands, Quebec, elementary teacher, 1976–79; freelance writer in Framboise, Nova Scotia, 1979–84; Atlantic Publishers Association, Halifax, Nova Scotia, executive director, 1984–85; secondary school teacher in Igloolik, Northwest Territories, 1985–90; Baffin Divisional Board of Education, Iqualuit, Nunavut, secondary programs consultant, 1990–91; University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, lecturer, 1992–2004; University of Western Ontario, London, lecturer, 1997–2003; York University, Toronto, assistant professor, 2004–. Writer-in-residence, Truro, Nova Scotia, 1983. Member of board of directors of Atlantic Provinces Book Review, 1982–84; member of board of directors, ecology Action Centre, 1982–84; consultant to Herbicide Fund Society and Coalition against Pesticides, 1982–84.
Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Writers' Union of Canada, Playwrights Guild of Canada.
First prize in children's short prose, 1980, for A Horse Called Farmer, and in adult short fiction, 1981, for "Elizabeth's Signs," both from Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia; Toronto Board of Education national play-writing competition award, 1981, for Snowdreams; Ontario Arts Council grant, 1984; Geoffery Bilson Historical Fiction Award shortlist, 1989, for Mogul and Me; Mr. Christie Book Award finalist, 1993, Notable Book citation, Canadian Library Association, 1994, and Tiny Torgi Award, Canadian Institute for the Blind, 1995, all for Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay.
Snowdreams (one-act play; produced in Ontario, Canada, 1981), Playwrights Union of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.
Ti-Jean (children's one-act play; produced in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1981), Playwrights Union of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
A Horse Called Farmer (children's picture book), Ragweed Press (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada), 1984.
Mogul and Me (historical fiction for children), Ragweed Press (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada), 1989.
Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay, illustrated by Alice Priestley, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993, tenth anniversary edition, 2004.
Also author of This Is Our Child, This Is Your Patient, a prose poem for parents and medical professionals, published by various health organizations in Canada, the United States, Australia, England, and the Netherlands. Contributor to books, including Diverse Landscapes: Re-Reading Place across Cultures in Contemporary Canadian Writing, edited by Karin Beeler and Dee Horne, University of Northern British Columbia Press, 1996, and Re-Constructing the Fragments of Michael Ondaatje's Works, edited by Jean-Michel Lacroix, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Advocate, Between the Issues, Horn Book, University of Windsor Review, JAM, Essays on Canadian Writing, Cape Breton Times, Atlantic Provinces Book Review, Rural Delivery, Southender, Writers' News, Textual Studies in Canada, Essays on Canadian Writing, and Chickadee. Contributing editor of Quill & Quire.
Cumming's work has been translated into Danish, French, German, Japanese, and Welsh.
An adaptation of "Elizabeth's Signs" aired on CBC-Radio, 1983; an adaptation of A Horse Called Farmer aired on CBC-Radio and TV-Ontario.
Work in Progress
Academic research on Tim Wynne-Jones, Morris Panych, and Ernest Thompson Seton.
In addition to his work as an actor, director, and educator, Peter Cumming is also a writer who has produced stage plays, nonfiction, and several books for children. In keeping with Cumming's Canadian audience, his plays Ti-Jean and Snowdreams are both bilingual; Ti-Jean is the story of a French-Canadian folk hero while Snowdreams recounts the fictional history of "Snow-country," a land that bears a striking resemblance to the history of the author's native Canada. Snowdreams celebrates cultural diversity and illustrates the author's vision of a world in which people of all types manage to coexist peacefully.
Along with his work in theater, Cumming has also written two picture books and the historical novel Mogul and Me. The novel takes place in 1836, and tells the story of a young boy and an elephant named Mogul. The boy is hired on by the circus to be Mogul's guardian, and in the process almost dies while trying to save the elephant after the ship on which they are traveling catches fire. Cumming's story will "hook almost everyone," according to Hugh A. Cook, reviewing the title for Canadian Review of Materials, the critic adding that "there are some very tense moments for the main characters."
Cumming's books for children reflect cultures that are uniquely Canadian: life in the far north. A Horse Called Farmer tells the story of a horse who escapes from the Magdalen Islands and swims home to his old owner, a nine-year-old girl. Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay is also a story about the relationship between an animal and a child, in this case a toddler and a polar bear cub, whose paths intersect on an iceberg in the middle of the bay. Despite the warnings of their parents, the child and the cub look to each other for safety in the cold environment. "The reader is always aware of the urgency and danger that the young ones are in," noted Kay Kerman in her review for Canadian Review of Materials. When their respective parents eventually find them, the girl stops her father from shooting the bears by sharing her new understanding of the creatures. "The innocence of the very young is portrayed in a tale of curiosity and trust," commented Isobel Lang in Resource Links, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the story a "lilting tale."
Cumming told SATA: "My plays and books for children and young people all seem to arise out of particular communities in which I have lived. For example, I lived for six years in Inuit communities in Nunavut, in Canada's eastern Arctic: my picture book Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay (and its special tenth anniversary edition) is firmly grounded in my experience there. I lived for three years on a small island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: my picture book A Horse Called Farmer, translated into French, German, Danish, and Welsh, is set on that island, where both Farmer and I lived. My play Ti-Jean comes out of my experiences living in Quebec. My children's novel Mogul and Me arises from nine years living in Atlantic Canada. My play Snow-dreams, which won a Canada-wide playwriting competition, and which has been performed by high school theatre groups across Canada, is grounded in all my experiences of living in various regions of the complex multicultural community."
"My writing takes me in many directions," the Canadian writer once noted of his work. "There is no master plan, yet somehow I return to paths that lead me through familiar forests: islands, Canada, history, concern for the fragile ecology of this planet, and life now—a bittersweet mixture of romantic love of the past and pragmatic fear of the future. What I would really like to write about is almost impossible because the world comes too close to my doorstep with its lunacy. The glorious foolishness of Western civilization is a blind walk off a gangplank. My problem: how to write a lyric poem when the nuclear time bomb lies ticking. My need: to write a lyric poem."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Books in Canada, June, 1985, review of A Horse Called Farmer, p. 38.
Canadian Review of Materials, May, 1990, review of Mogul and Me, p. 38; September, 1993, review of Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay, p. 145.
Publishers Weekly, January 10, 2005, review of Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay, p. 58.
Quill & Quire, July, 1990, review of Mogul and Me, p. 118; March, 1993, review of Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay, p. 58.
Resource Links, February, 2005, Isobel Lang, review of Out on the Ice in the Middle of the Bay, p. 3.
Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (February 13, 2006), "Peter Cumming."
Peter Cumming Home Page, http://www3.sympatico.ca/peter.cumming (February 13, 2006).
Writers' Union of Canada Web site, http://www.writersunion/ca/ (February 13, 2006), "Peter Cumming."
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