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Nobel Prize nominee Irving Layton dies at 93

Layton, who wrote over 40 books, was equally renowned for his provocative lifestyle.

books Updated: Jan 07, 2006 14:35 IST

Irving Layton, a Nobel prize-nominated poet and one of Canada's most influential writers, has died. He was 93. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1994, Layton died Wednesday in a long-term care facility surrounded by caregivers and longtime friend Musia Schwartz, said Lisa Blobstein, spokeswoman for the Maimonides Geriatric Centre.

A prolific writer, Layton published more than 40 books of poetry and prose over more than five decades, clawing his way to the top of Canada's literary hierarchy.

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler referred to Layton as "the man who taught me how to think." Layton taught for many years, and counted Cotler and poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen among his students.

Layton was named to the Order of Canada in 1976- Canada's highest honour. He held several university posts as poet-or writer-in-residence and was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1982.

Born Israel Lazarovitch in Romania on March 12, 1912, Layton was the seventh and final child of Moses, a Jewish bookkeeper, and his wife Klara.

When Layton was a year old, the family emigrated to Canada, settling in a tough, multiethnic neighborhood in Montreal. Its mean streets later became the backdrop for many of his graphic, often bawdy poems.

He seemed to revel in his raucous reputation; the more critics sneered, the more provocative and abrasive he became. "I am a genius who has written poems that will survive with the best of Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Keats," Layton declared in 1972.

His gritty, satiric and erotic poems often shocked critics in the 1940's and 1950's.

"He was as famous as a Canadian writer could get at the time," said McGill University English professor Brian Trehearne. Layton was married five times, most recently to Anna Pottier. In 1995, the couple separated after Layton was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

He had four children with his various wives. David, his son from his third marriage, went on to write 1999's Motion Sickness, a memoir of growing up with his volatile father.

First Published: Jan 07, 2006 14:35 IST