Born in Dublin, Matthew Corrigan immigrated to Toronto when he was nine. He attended St. Michael’s College School, the University of Toronto (Honours Philosophy & English), and the State University of New York at Buffalo (Modern philosophy and literature). While a student at the University of Toronto, he was actively and to the detriment of his university studies involved in theatre: directing, producing, acting in and writing one act plays for Hart House Theatre, New Play Society (Dora Mavor Moore), and Straw Hat Players (summers in Ontario’s Port Carling & Peterborough). As head of the St. Michael’s drama guild, he joined with University College to bring the first production of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan to Canada (Hart House Theatre). He was also editor of the Gryphon, the literary magazine of St Michael’s.
Upon graduation, he taught at Ottawa’s Fisher Park High School for a year but then remembered an exciting new graduate program in literary criticism and theory at the State University of New York at Buffalo that his teachers, Professors Donald Thiel and Marshall McLuhan, had recommended. He applied, was accepted, and received his MA and PhD in modern literature from that institution.
At Buffalo, he encountered an amazing array of talented teachers and writers, including Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, John Barth, Albert Cook, Leslie Fiedler, C. L. Barber, Marvin Farber, René Girard, and Irving Massey. Upon completing his studies, he was offered a position at St. Michael’s, University of Toronto, by the then chair of English, Professor Richard Schoeck. But he chose instead to remain in the States, teaching first at Canisius University (a Jesuit college) and then at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he set up and was the initial director of its programme in Creative Writing. In 1973, he was hired by York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts to design a Creative Writing Programme for that institution. Two years later (1975), he joined York’s Division of Humanities to help inaugurate the new programme (the largest and most distinguished in Canada) and to teach courses in Modern European culture.
Matthew considers himself a cultural anthropologist, interested in the transformations of human consciousness and culture and the ways that art reflects, illuminates, and counters its age—often performing critiques of the age. He is interested in how the significant artist must reorient himself “posthumously,” as Nietzsche puts it, within his age, often working clandestinely and subversively to accomplish his or her best work. And he is interested in the problem of evil as it reached apocalyptic pitch in the previous century—“an age of monsters,” as Czeslaw Milosz aptly calls it.
He is inspired by Nietzsche’s idea that one must live one’s life bravely; that one must strike out for what is right and just in this world; that one must serve the future as well as the present; and that one has an obligation to the young to open their eyes to the marvels and mistakes of the past. He tries to follow Burckhardt’s injunction that one should be both a specialist and a generalist in as many areas as possible, lest one become, in Burckhardt’s words, a “barbarian.” He relates to Gide’s observation that one becomes a writer or indeed teacher to reprise for others what one has received from one’s own usually deceased mentors; and identifies with van Gogh’s humble credo: “the word artist includes the meaning: always seeking without absolutely finding. . . . As far as I know the word means I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”
In an age—a “prestissimo” age, as Nietzsche would categorize it—overwhelmed with the detritus and clutter of human curiosity and culture, where the genuine is often admixed with the meretricious as never before, an age of emperors and empresses without any clothes, he believes the role of the Humanities teacher has never been more important.
His critical writings and short fiction have appeared in a number of international journals, among them: Shenandoah, Dalhousie Review, University of Windsor Review, Canadian Forum, Open Letter, Edge, Canadian Literature, Twentieth Century Literary Criticism, Modern Poetry Studies, Western Humanities Review, Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, Contemporary Literary Criticism, Black Rose Press, University of Houston Forum, Boundary Two, University of Toronto Quarterly, Encounter (London), and The New York Times Book Review. His inaugural work on the English novelist Malcolm Lowry (in Alfred Kazin’s view “the last clear instance of a Modernist master”) and on the American poet Charles Olson have been cited for their perceptiveness. At Binghamton he helped William Spanos and Robert Kroetsch found Boundary Two, a journal of post-modernist criticism, originally published by SUNY, currently published by Duke University.
His work has been praised by writers and journal editors, including Charles Olson, Michael Mott, Melvin J. Lasky, Nigel Dennis, John Leonard, Ted Solotaroff, Leslie Fiedler, Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, and George Steiner.
He has recently completed a three volume historical novel set in Nazi Germany. The novel, entitled The Reichskanzler’s Historian, imagines the life of a fictional Munich history professor who, in 1933, is conscripted by the new German chancellor to write the official history of the German Reich, commencing with Frederick the Great of Prussia and ending with the present leader. The project has taken him over twenty years to complete. A fuller description of the trilogy and introductory chapters can be found elsewhere on this site. The work is currently with the agent Tim Bates at Peters, Fraser, Dunlop Agency, London.
He has written a second novel (set in nineteenth-century Ontario), two books of poems, a gathering of short fiction, and most recently a study of artistic failure, utilizing the figure of Virginia Woolf.
At York, he taught a number of first year courses: New Modes of Expression in Modern Literature and Art, Modern Man in Search of Understanding, The Art of Writing, and The Modern Age (Shapers & Definers). He taught the fourth year seminars: Intellectual Backgrounds to the Modern Period, The Artist in the Modern World, Creators and their Creations, Perspectives on Nazism, and in his last years at York: Works & Days: On Human Creativity—the writer’s work in relationship to his or her life. He also taught workshops at all three levels of York’s Creative Writing programme—a programme that he directed for a time. Syllabi for these courses are reproduced below.
Matthew lives with his wife and two sons north of Toronto.