Raymond Joseph Fraser (novelist, poet, short story writer, educator, freelance journalist, and publisher) was born 8 May 1941 to Robert Fraser and Ursula (Graham) Fraser in Chatham, New Brunswick. He was a founding member of The Flat Earth Society, the Montreal Story Tellers Fiction Performance Group, and Rank Outsiders Poetry Extravaganza. He had lived in Montreal, Paris, Dublin, and various parts of Spain and New Brunswick. He died in Fredericton in 2018.
Fraser was educated at local schools in Chatham and played hockey as a teenager for the Chatham Juvenile All-Stars in 1957–8. He also attended St. Thomas University in Chatham, where he played varsity hockey and football. In his third year at St. Thomas, he co-edited the literary journal Tom-Tom with his friend John Brebner (1962–3). Fraser graduated with a BA in 1964, and then moved to Montreal, where he wrote full-time and helped found the Montreal Story Tellers group along with Hugh Hood, John Metcalf, Ray Smith, and Clark Blaise. J.R. (Tim) Struthers assembled a series of short memoirs written by the living members in his book The Montreal Story Tellers: Memoirs, Photographs, Critical Essays. Fraser published a memoir entitled When the Earth Was Flat (2007), detailing his years in Fredericton, the founding of the Flat Earth Society, his work with the Montreal Story Tellers, his marriage to Sharon Fraser, his personal struggle with alcoholism, and his friendships with a host of illustrious writers, poets, scholars, and publishers.
Fraser had a considerable publication record, but he has not received the critical attention that such a prolific writer deserves from the academy. However, his work has been recognized by his peers. He received four grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and six creation grants from the New Brunswick Arts Branch, and has won both the Bernell MacDonald Prize and the Lion's Head Best Book of the Year Award for When the Earth Was Flat. He also received a Canadian Writers' Trust Woodcock Grant and the inaugural Lieutenant Governor's Award for high achievement in English-language literary arts in 2009. One of his four novels, The Bannonbridge Musicians (1978), was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. He was Fredericton High School Writer-in-Residence in 1996–97 and 1997–98.
In all, Fraser had written and/or edited twenty-two books. These consist of eleven works of fiction; two biographies (one on the Acadian boxer Yvon Durelle, the “Fighting Fisherman”); a memoir; and six books of poetry, including his collection, Poems for the Miramichi (1965). Fraser’s first book of fiction, a novella and short story collection entitled The Black Horse Tavern (1972), was written and published in Montreal to critical acclaim; the collection sold out quickly, though unfortunately the publisher did not reprint it. Dozens of his poems and short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including The Fiddlehead, The Antigonish Review, Pottersfield Portfolio, Tamarack Review, Journal of Canadian Fiction, Canadian Fiction Magazine, West Coast Review, Weekend Magazine, Matrix, Rubicon, Quarry, and Canadian Forum. Fraser was also editor of several periodicals, including Midnight, Pottersfield Portfolio (1990–2), and Intercourse (1966–71), which he founded in 1966. He was a contributing editor for The New Brunswick Reader, 1996–2001. His poems and stories have been featured in sixteen Canadian literature anthologies, and he himself helped edit East of Canada, an anthology of Atlantic Canadian poetry.
With his spare and direct writing style, the ironic and often self-deprecating Fraser is well-known among the Maritime literati as a writer of superior talent and wit who is surprisingly accessible in person. Despite the dearth of biographical resources on Fraser, much of what we know about Fraser’s life and works is gleaned from what others have said about him, particularly his close friend and contemporary Alden Nowlan. Nowlan had the highest praise for Fraser and his work. He remarked in a blurb on the back of the first edition of The Black Horse Tavern that Fraser was “one of the liveliest and most entertaining writers in the country,” citing “a zest for life and a sense of humour” in all his work. Their extensive correspondence between 1961 and 1977 bespeaks a fruitful and lasting friendship.
The collected correspondence between Fraser and Nowlan is housed at the Harriet Irving Library’s special collections archives at the University of New Brunswick. In one letter dated 22 July 1975, Nowlan addresses Fraser with the playfully exaggerated titles they gave each other when they founded the Flat Earth Society along with Leo Ferrari: “Captain Ray Fraser, Duke of Northumberland, First Lord of the Admiralty, Planoterrestialist and Gentleman.” Fraser, in turn, refers to Nowlan as the “Prince of Fortara.” In a heartfelt and revealing essay of the same name published in The Antigonish Review, Fraser reminisces about the bright times with Nowlan and mourns the loss of his friend to alcoholism. Fraser reveals that they both came from humble beginnings, and that Nowlan was an intensely private man, especially in person. On 11 June 2008, Fraser posted to his personal website a portion of a 1963 letter he wrote to Nowlan in which he called Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles “pretentious and tiresome [...] like a barnyard soap opera penned by someone who has great difficulty in expressing himself.” Fraser supposes that he never actually sent the missive because he did not want to offend Nowlan by disparaging one of his favourite writers: “[It] was one of the few times in my life I employed such discretion.” Regardless, Fraser admits that forty-five years later, his “opinion of 1963 still stands.”
Fraser had a blog, where he posted book reviews, short stories, poetry, essays, web links, a wonderful collection of old photographs (complete with irreverent captions), and some “advice to the lovelorn...no telling what you’ll find.” On this website, he also offered to mail his books to interested buyers provided that they kindly send a cheque along—but only if they are “happy with the book(s).”
The Fraser fonds, which Fraser donated to UNB in 1988, also contain personal correspondence with other Canadian writers, reviewers, and critics, as well as old reviews, newspaper clippings, manuscripts and typescripts of both published and unpublished works, royalty statements, tax returns, and other business records, some of which relate to the formation and maintenance of the Flat Earth Society. Ultimately, more scholarly work is needed in order to shed more light on Fraser’s considerable contributions to Canadian and New Brunswick literature.
Nicola A. Faieta, Spring 2009
University of New Brunswick
For more information on Raymond Fraser, please visit his entry at the New Brunswick Literature Curriculum in English.
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Fraser, Raymond Joseph. The Bannonbridge Musicians. Portugal Cove, NL: Breakwater Books, 1978.
---. Before You're a Stranger: New and Selected Poems. Roslin, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2000.
---. The Black Horse Tavern. Montreal, QC: Ingluvin Publications, 1972.
---. Costa Blanca. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 2001.
---. The Fighting Fisherman: The Life of Yvon Durelle. New York: Doubleday, 1981.
---. The Grumpy Man: A Novella & Stories. Toronto, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2008.
---. Homepage. Raymond Fraser—Canadian Author. 2007. Raymond Fraser. 30 Mar. 2009
---. In a Cloud of Dust and Smoke: A Novel. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 2003.
---. In Another Life: A Novel. Toronto, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2009.
---. I've Laughed and Sung Through the Whole Night Long and Seen the Summer Sunrise in the Morning. Montreal, QC: Delta Canada, 1969.
---. MacBride Poems. Fredericton, NB: Wild East, 1991.
---. The Madness Of Youth. Toronto, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2011.
---. The More I Live. Montreal, QC: Wandering Albatross Press, 1971.
---. Poems for the Miramichi. Montreal, QC: Poverty Press, 1965.
---. “The Prince of Fortara.” The Antigonish Review 150 (Summer 2008). 30 Mar. 2009
---. Repentance Vale. Toronto, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2011.
---. Rum River: Stories. Fredericton, NB: Broken Jaw Press, 1997.
---. The Struggle Outside: A Funny Serious Novel. Scarborough, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975.
---. The Trials of Brother Bell. Toronto, ON: Lion's Head Press, 2010.
---. Waiting for God's Angel. Montreal, QC: Poverty Press, 1967.
---. When the Earth was Flat: Remembering Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, The Flat Earth Society, the King James Monarchy Hoax, the Montreal Story Tellers and Other Curious Matters. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press, 2007.
Fraser, Raymond, and Todd Matchett. Confessions of a Young Criminal: The Story Behind Allan Legere and the Murder at Black River Bridge. Fredericton, NB: New Ireland Press, 1994.
Fraser, Raymond, Clyde Rose, and Jim Stewart, eds. East of Canada: An Atlantic Anthology. Portugal Cove, NL: Breakwater Books, 1976.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Adams, Trevor J., and Stephen Patrick Clare. Atlantic Canada's 100 Greatest Books. Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2009.
“Biographical Sketch - Raymond Fraser fonds." UNB Archives & Special Collections. 7 Nov. 2007. U of New Brunswick.
Bowman, Judy. Rev. of The Grumpy Man. By Raymond Fraser. The Miramichi Leader 10 Nov. 2008: B5.
Garwood, Christine. Flat Earth: The History of the Infamous Idea. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.
Jacobs, Danny. “No Ray of Sunshine.” Rev. of The Grumpy Man, by Raymond Fraser. Herenb.com 9 Apr. 2009: A11.
Laugher, Charles T. Atlantic Province Authors of the 20th Century: A Bio-Bibliographical Checklist. Halifax, NS: Dalhousie U Libraries, 1982.
Nowlan, Michael O. Rev. of The Grumpy Man, by Raymond Fraser. The Daily Gleaner 15 Nov. 2008: D6.
Pelley, Chad. “Raymond Fraser: Atlantic Canada's Man of the Month?” Salty Ink: A Spotlight on Atlantic Canadians Writing. 26 Nov. 2009.
Ripley, Gordon, and Anne Mercer, eds. Who’s Who in Canadian Literature, 1987–1988. Toronto, ON: Reference Press, 1987.
Steeves, Winston Andrew, ed. Alden Nowlan’s Letters to Ray Fraser: 1961–1977. MA thesis. Acadia U, 1996.
Struthers, J. R. (Tim), ed. The Montreal Story Tellers. Montreal, QC: Véhicule, 1985.
Weiss, Allan, ed. A Comprehensive Bibliography of English-Canadian Short Stories, 1950–1983. Toronto, ON: ECW, 1988.
Williamson, Margie. Four Maritime Poets: A Survey of the Works of Alden Nowlan, Fred Cogswell, Raymond Fraser and Al Pittman, as They Reflect the Spirit and Culture of the Maritime People. MA thesis. Dalhousie U, 1973.