Rosemary Sullivan

Rosemary Sulivan
Professor Emerita
Place of Birth: 
Montreal, QC
First Year Employed at UTM/U of T: 
Department / Division: 

U of T Mississauga entirely shaped my professional life.

Rosemary Sullivan

Rosemary Sullivan was heading back to her hometown of Montreal in 1977 when she made a fortuitous stop-over in Toronto. She received a “wonderful” job offer at Erindale (U of T Mississauga) and taught at the University of Toronto until her retirement. She was the driving force behind the creation of U of T’s now-thriving master’s program in creative writing.

Sullivan, a professor emeritus of English and an acclaimed biographer and poet, specialized in Canadian literature and women’s studies. It was an exciting time for Canadian writers, “Everyone was engaged in bringing Canadian writers to the forefront,” says Sullivan. “I had the feeling of being in on the ground level and creating a place for Canadian literature.”

Meanwhile, a trip to Russia and her friendship with fellow UTM English professor Josef Skvorecky—a Czech refugee—gave her a window into the lives of writers who were denied free expression. Sullivan became very involved with Amnesty International, and in 1981, she organized a 10-day conference in aid of the human rights organization, featuring 70 writers and poets, including Nadine Gordimer, Allan Ginsberg, Susan Sontag and Alan Sillitoe. Sullivan calls it the first “Live Aid” event and remembers it as “thrilling.”

“At Erindale, if we came up with an idea, we were told to ‘go for it’,” she says. “We could develop our creative and scholarly lives without the burden of onerous administrative duties.

“It was a small department at a wonderful school and every door was open to me. It was an exciting time.”

She enjoyed teaching and was conscious of being a role model to her students. “It was still the day when there weren’t many female professors,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan left Erindale for the St. George campus in 2001 to take up a Canada Research Chair in Biography, but the campus’ impact remained through her lifelong friendship with Skvorecky and her anthology collaborations with colleague Mark Levine. The interest Skvorecky helped her nurture in government repression is still flourishing, as evidenced by her newest biography, the acclaimed Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva.

“Erindale opened the most important door of my career for me,” she says.


Selected Awards:

Officer, Order of Canada, 2012, for outstanding contributions to Canadian literature and culture

Lorne Pierce Medal for Major Contribution to Canadian Literature, Royal Society of Canada, 2008

Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction, 1995, for Shadow Maker, the biography of Gwendolyn McEwen


Selected Publications:

Stalin’s Daughter: the Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, 2015, winner of numerous awards, including the 2016 RBC Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction; published in 21 countries

Villa Bel Air: World War II, Escape and a House in Marseille, 2006, winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award’s Yad Vashem Prize in Holocaust History

The Space a Name Makes (poetry),1986, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award