Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Douglas Gibson, genial man of letters

Genial: who knew the little world could mean so much?

This thought came to me last night listening to Douglas Gibson, the famed literary editor, speak about his new book of memoirs, Stories about Storytellers (ECW Press, 2011).

Stories Cover

The room was filled with more than a few greying and silver heads, comfortably dressed folk all, listening to this incredibly, well… genial man tell stories about the Canadian authors with whom he has worked. They range from Hugh MacLennan and Mavis Gallant to Alice Munro, Robertson Davies and Alistair MacLeod. They also include great writers of non-fiction including Barry Broadfoot (half million copies sold of his book on the depression, Ten Lost Years), Peter C Newman and Peter Gzowski. And then there are the former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin Jr. It’s hard to imagine an editor more blessed. It also says something about the historical era in which he worked, and the powerful support (tenaciously fought for) that was given to works that were Canadian.

Gibson essentially recounted anecdotes, telling details about the authors. Many of the bits, I suspect, have been told over and over again (certainly the Morley Callaghan v Ernest Hemingway boxing match is an oldy). Others were more personal (his 'home invasion' chez Alistair Mcleod to recover the long awaited novel, No Great Mischief). I can’t imagine that there will be a critical thing written in the book – he certainly uttered nary a dark phrase last night. It was like listening to an editorial version of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl CafĂ©.

But like McLean, he didn’t try to be anything other than what he was. And for that, the evening (and likely the book) was entirely pleasant and, in its own way, informative. Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in Canada in the second half of the 20th century.

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