'A poet of places': Jan Morris' son, an Edmonton resident, remembers prolific writer

·3 min read

Jan Morris leaves behind an incredible legacy, says her son Mark Morris, who has been teaching at the University of Alberta since 2000.

The prolific Welsh writer died Friday at 94.

"A bit of history has gone with her," Mark Morris said in an interview.

Jan Morris was the only reporter allowed on the historic climb of Mount Everest in 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to reach the summit. Before her death, she was the last member from that mission still alive.

It's a story Mark Morris heard a lot while growing up.

"In fact, I can remember her building a model of Everest in the snow for us instead of a snowman. And she showed us how it all worked and where the routes were," he said.

Mark Morris has been in Canada since the late 80s. He's a full lecturer in the English and Film Studies Department at the U of A. Morris is also a librettist and has written 13 operas and is currently the music critic for the Edmonton Journal.

Hear Mark talk about this father on CBC Radio's Radio Active:

Despite Jan Morris' impressive body of work in a variety of styles, her son said she'll be remembered "for her staggeringly good writing."

"She's one of the great stylists of writing and I see that in The Guardian newspaper in Britain today, six other travel writers have done tributes today to say how her writing influenced them," Mark said.

Morris, a transgender woman, very publicly documented her transition in the book Conundrum, which was published in 1974. Mark said this is also an important piece of her legacy. He said he knew of many people to whom her example was so important.

Edmonton: A six day week

In 1990, Jan wrote a book of essays chronicling different cities across Canada. According to her essay on Edmonton, called A six day week, there was something about the city that didn't quite agree with her. Despite the fact that Jan couldn't last a week here in winter, Mark said he loves the essay.

"How could the Edmontonians stand it, I wondered, for a whole winter —or a whole lifetime? Was it only to strangers that the city seemed so bewilderingly unresolved, or did its citizens too feel their navigations vague? So flat, so far away, so bitter half the year — what profits or pleasures could compensate for the disadvantages of Edmonton?" one section in the essay reads.

Mark teaches the essay to writing students in his classes at the U of A, and said there's always a big divide in how students feel about the piece.

"It strikes me that Edmonton is one of those places that half of us love all the time while the other half hate it. And then we all switch positions," he said.

"I think my father got that perfectly in this article."

She was, after all, "a poet of places," according to Mark.