Leslie, Kenneth

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Leslie, Kenneth

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Journalist and poet Kenneth Leslie was born in 1892 to businessman Robert Jamieson and Bertha (Starratt) Leslie in Pictou, Nova Scotia. He was raised and educated in Halifax, where he attended the Arnold School (a one-room private school), and Alexandra School. At age fourteen he entered Dalhousie University and received his BA in 1912. This was followed by one year of study at the Colgate Theological Seminary, an MA at the University of Nebraska (1914), and further graduate studies in philosophy and mysticism at Harvard University. Throughout this time, Leslie developed an appreciation of poetry, socialism and mysticism that would dominate his later life.

On his return to Halifax, Leslie married Elizabeth Moir, daughter of wealthy Halifax businessman, James Moir. They had four children: Kathleen, Gloria, Rosaleen and Kenneth Alexander (later Alexander Moir). With James Moir’s support, Leslie experimented with a number of unsuccessful business ventures including farming and investment. During this time he also joined a Halifax literary group called the Song Fishermen, which included Charles G.D. Roberts, Charles Bruce, Andrew Merkel and Robert Norwood.

Leslie moved to New York City where he experimented with preaching, broadcasting, composing music and acting. He continued to write poetry and was published in The Song Fishermens’ Song Sheet as well as Literary Digest and Scribner’s Magazine. In 1934 he published his first book of poetry, Windward Rock, which coincided with the end of his marriage. Between 1936–1938 Leslie published three more poetry books, including By Stubborn Stars and Other Poems, which won the 1938 Governor General’s Award. He also founded the religious and politically-minded magazine Protestant Digest (later called The Protestant) with his second wife, Marjorie Finlay Hewitt, and the assistance of three Nova Scotians—Ralph (Kelly) Morton, Sanford Archibald and Gerald Richardson. In 1943 Leslie established the Textbook Commission to eliminate anti-Semitic statements in American textbooks, and in 1944 he published an anti-fascist comic book called The Challenger. As publisher and editor of The Protestant, Leslie corresponded with many prominent American political and social figures and became a popular public speaker.

During the late 1940s Leslie's reputation as anti-Catholic and pro-communist began to grow; there were staff problems at The Protestant; and his marriage to Marjorie ended. In 1949 Leslie and his third wife, Cathy, returned to Halifax when Leslie and The Protestant drew criticism from Senator McCarthy for un-American activity. Leslie’s third marriage dissolved shortly after his return to Nova Scotia. He continued to publish The Protestant and successor periodicals from Nova Scotia on a smaller scale until 1972 when his health declined. He also worked sporadically as a taxi driver and teacher while continuing to write and publish poetry. In the early 1960s he married his fourth wife, Nora Steenerson. Kenneth Leslie died in Halifax in 1974.


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