Margaret Gibson, 57: ‘Opium Dreams’ writer

Toronto Star – Catherine Dunphy – Obituary Writer

She burst onto the ’70s literary scene a fully formed writer ? huge, intense, black-rimmed blue/green eyes, brown-wrapped Plus cigarette, telling the literary journalists of the day in her low, husky voice how she needed words, how she got a physical pain in her hands if she didn’t write, how she sometimes wrote for 32 hours at one time, until her hands bled.

She also told them she was writing to finish before her next mental collapse.

What she wrote was and wasn’t fiction. All Margaret Gibson’s work was based on the central, singular fact of her life. At 15, she had been diagnosed with a mental illness ? paranoid schizophrenia ? and institutionalized at Guelph’s Homewood Institute. At 26 she wrote The Butterfly Ward, a book of short stories, all of them about madness.

That book blazed across the literary landscape, sharing the City of Toronto literary prize with Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle. Quebec director Claude Jutra chose one of its stories, “Ada,” to be his first English language television project. “Making It,” her story about her surreal and very real friendship with female impersonator Craig Russell, was made into Outrageous, the movie that was the talk of the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.