A. M. Klein

A. M. Klein bigraphy, stories - Writer, journalist, lawyer

A. M. Klein : biography

14 February 1909 – 20 August 1972

Abraham Moses "A. M." Klein (14 February 1909 – 20 August 1972) was a Canadian poet, journalist, novelist, short story writer and lawyer. He has been called "one of Canada’s greatest poets and a leading figure in Jewish-Canadian culture."Usher Caplan, "," Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1988), 1143.

Best known for his poetry, Klein also published one novella entitled The Second Scroll in 1951, along with numerous essays, reviews, and short stories. Many of his lesser-known works, including several unfinished novels, were published posthumously in a series of collections from the University of Toronto Press.


Early life and publications

Klein was born in Ratno, Ukraine, but in the following years (probably at age three or four) he moved with his family to Montreal, Quebec, the city in which he would live most of his life. Ratno had seen a series of pogroms and, like many Ukrainian Jews, Klein’s parents sought a safer life elsewhere. As a result of the influx of Jewish immigrants to Montreal, its Jewish community flourished, even though many families lived close to the poverty line. The family of Irving Layton was another notable addition to this community. Klein’s father, an Orthodox follower of the Jewish faith, influenced Klein’s early development. The son’s early education and literary interests owed much to his plan to become a rabbi when he grew up, a plan that he never fulfilled.

Klein attended Baron Byng High School, an institution that would later be immortalized in Mordecai Richler’s novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. There he became a friend of David Lewis, future leader of the socialist New Democratic Party. Klein introduced Lewis to his wife, Sophie Carson, when they were all students at Baron Byng.Smith (1989) pp. 146–157 (Lewis later introduced Irving Layton to Klein. Klein became Layton’s Latin tutor so he could pass his matriculation exams.)

Klein went on to study political science, classics and economics as an undergraduate at McGill University. It was there that he met a group of poets and critics, including F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith, who would form the foundations of the so-called Montreal Group of Poets. Klein’s first submission of a poem to the Scott and Smith-edited magazine, The McGill Fortnightly Review, was rejected on the basis of its author’s refusal to alter the word "soul," which the editors felt was out of step with the modernist principles they espoused. Klein nevertheless became friends with the elder poets and was soon an avid modernist himself. After the Fortnightly Review folded, Klein and Lewis founded The McGilliad magazine at McGill in 1930.

Klein also came under the influence of Montreal Group member Leon Edel, the future Henry James biographer, who introduced Klein to the works of James Joyce and other writers. Klein would add Joyce to his list of lifelong fascinations, an interest that bore fruit in a complex literary study of Joyce’s Ulysses, published posthumously in the Klein volume Literary Essays and Reviews.

After McGill, Klein studied law at the Université de Montréal, where instruction was in French. He was a law partner first of Max Garmaise, whom he followed briefly to Rouyn, a small mining development in the North of Quebec. Then, back in Montreal, he joined with Samuel Chait (who was to become first president of the Federated Zionist Organization of Canada, when it was reorganised in 1967). Klein, Garmaise, and Chait had all been officers of Young Judea, a Zionist youth organization.

In spite of his growing literary interests, Klein’s early poetry of the 1920s and 1930s was largely concerned with Jewish themes, including the history of Jews in Western society ("Design for Mediaeval Tapestry"), the importance of religion as a mediating force in modern society ("Heirloom"), and tributes to important figures in Jewish culture ("Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens," about the philosopher Spinoza). Klein published many of these early works in Canadian and American periodicals, although the Great Depression made it difficult for him to find a publisher willing to accept an entire book. He also published two poems in the 1936 anthology of modernist Canadian poetry, New Provinces.