Jean Margaret Wemyss was born in Neepawa, Manitoba on July 18, 1926 to Robert Harrison Wemyss, a lawyer, and his wife Verna Simpson. Her mother died when she was 4 years old, and her father later married his former sister in law Margaret Campbell Simpson. When Laurence was nine years old her father died of pneumonia and she moved in with her Grandfather. Laurence wrote for and was an editor of the Black and Gold, the Neepawa Collegiate paper. When she was in Grades Eleven and Twelve, she had several articles published in the Neepawa Press.
After graduating form high school in 1944, Margaret attended Winnipegs United College, and was assistant editor of the college paper. Jean Margaret Wemyss graduated from United College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947, and married John Fergus Laurence on September 13, 1947, in the Neepawa United Church. She then worked as a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen. In 1949, she and her husband moved to England and one year later they left England for Africa where they remained for seven years.
Their daughter Jocelyn was born in 1952 in England and their son David was born in the Gold Coast in 1955. In 1957 they returned to Canada where they lived in Vancouver for five years. In 1962, she separated from her husband and moved to England where she lived in London for a year. She then moved to Elm Cottage near Penn in Buckinghamshire and remained there for more than a decade, with frequent visits to Canada. Margaret Laurence received honorary degrees from more than a dozen Canadian universities. She was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1971, and had numerous other honors given to her including two Governor Generals Awards.
She served as Writer in Residence at the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario and Trent University, and was appointed Chancellor of Trent for the years 1981 to 1983. Her early work revolved around her African experience. Her first publication, A Tree for Poverty, was a collection of her translations of Somali legends and poetry. This Side Jordan, The Tomorrow-Tamer and The Prophets Camel Bell followed this in 1960. The Stone Angel was her first work of fiction set in Canada was published in 1964.
It was the first book of the Manawaka series, which includes A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, A Bird in the House, and The Diviners. She also wrote several children’s books including Jason’s Quest, Six Darn Cows, The Olden Days Coat and A Christmas Birthday Story. Margaret Laurence died of Cancer on January 5, 1987, and, at her request, her children, Jocelyn and David, brought her ashes to be interred in Riverside Cemetery, Neepawa.