Harrison was the author of the non-fiction book Orgasms, published in 1974 by Coach House Press. And she was on the cusp of international success with her upcoming psychological thriller, The Silent Wife, which is to be published in June by Penguin Canada. The book is already an international sensation, with U.S. and U.K. editions due out in June, as well as a Dutch edition slated to pub in Sept., and a French edition due in 2014.
Canadian novelist Susan Swan, a close friend of Harrison’s, recalls meeting the latter in Toronto in the 1970s, when they were both involved in the city’s performance-art community. “I first met ASA when she came to my performance piece about Barbara Ann Scott at the Cinema Lumiere,” Swan writes in an email to Q&Q. “She knew Margaret Dragu, the choreographer and performance artist who was the star of the theatre piece, which was an attack on lady-like 1950’s femininity. I remember looking at ASA in the lobby and thinking she seemed like an interesting woman and writer. Our friendship began that moment.”
Swan, who considers Orgasms “an underground classic,” goes on to praise Harrison’s daring as an artist. “The ’70s were a glorious creative underground time in Toronto when conceptual art met feminism. Nobody was into money or careers then, just exploring our creativity and seeing where it took us.”
A statement from Penguin Canada reads, in part, “We are deeply saddened over the loss of a great woman and an incredibly gifted writer.” Harrison is survived by her partner of 30 years, a visual artist in Toronto.
UPDATE: Samantha Haywood, of the Transatlantic Agency, writes in an email to Q&Q about her sadness at the loss of Harrison, and her admiration for the author’s debut novel:
ASA Harrison was my first client, nine years ago now, and happily also a dear family friend. Friends with my mother, Susan Swan, ASA knew me since I was a kid and she spoke at my wedding. I loved her and I will dearly miss her.
ASA worked for a decade on her fiction and her fabulous debut novel The Silent Wife is the brilliant culmination of her hard work and exceptional talent as a writer. When I think of ASA the author, I think about her care and precision and persistence with the craft. I’m heartbroken she doesn’t get to participate in her book’s international launch this June and July but I’m comforted by the fact that she saw the starred Publishers Weekly review and all the rave advance praise from her peers and the amazing international rights sales to date (seven countries and counting!). She is a true publishing success story and she deserves every inch of it.