Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Mavis Gallant
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and OthersThey will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on short story writer, Canadian, and Parisienne. Mavis Gallant.]

She has a formidable presence. She speaks in an accent that she says belongs to another era in Montreal, but to modern Canadian ears sounds English-influenced. She speaks with great, sibilant precision that can on occasion be mistaken for a hiss. As for her manner, with strangers she is such a reserved, dignified, and lady-like figure that she seems, metaphorically, to be wearing white gloves. Scores of journalists have come away from interviews with her, confessing that they felt intimidated.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Stories About Storytellers Robertson Davies
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and OthersThey will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on man of letters, oracle, and ugly duckling, Robertson Davies.]

World of Wonders was the first book by Robertson Davies that ushered me, a young editor, into his world. Its title provides a neat summary for that world in 1975, where to me everything was a little brighter, a little more surprising, and much more interesting than the everyday world offstage. It was a larger-than-life place, fully floodlit, and Davies was at its centre, ideally cast for the role of Man of Letters.

For a start, he looked like Jehovah. Not since Alexander Graham Bell — or, a mischievous thought, Karl Marx — has there been a head where flowing white locks and well-shaped beard combined so artfully to produce a leonine look, perhaps the look of the bust of Mendelssohn that adorned the piano of the house where he grew up, learning how a true artist should appear. It is impossible to think of Robertson Davies without that trademark beard.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Pierre Trudeau
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and OthersThey will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on Prime Minister, author, and haunting icon, Pierre Trudeau.]

Shortly after the news of Pierre Trudeau’s death was broadcast, I was sitting in the back of a cab in downtown Toronto. The cab driver and I shared our regrets about the news. The driver was a Greek who came to Canada as an adult in 1967, yet his heavily accented English allowed him to summarize elegantly how he felt: “I grew with him.”

Late in his life, I was fortunate enough to get to know Pierre Trudeau, the author. At McClelland & Stewart we paid a great deal of money to publish his Memoirs, based on the 1993 cbc tv series that began each episode with him, clad in an elegant buckskin jacket, paddling a canoe on a misty lake. It was a brilliant image, and the series drew millions of viewers. When the manuscript came in, however, bearing the company’s hopes for a successful year, there were obvious problems with it. Such major problems, in fact, that after I had spent a sleepless night our chairman, Avie Bennett, and I decided that it had to be reworked: in rough terms, made chronological rather than thematic. We flew to Montreal, and Avie, who knew Trudeau, introduced me to him for the first time. Given a choice, I would have made our first meeting an easy, congratulatory one, but c’est la vie.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Alistair MacLeod
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is the third excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and OthersThey will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on Alistair MacLeod.]

So my phone calls became more frequent, and more urgent, especially after Alistair rashly allowed that it was possible that he might finish the book in time for fall. This was a key moment of misunderstanding: when Alistair said “fall,” he meant that he would finish the book in the fall; what I chose to hear was that he would finish in time for us to publish his book in the fall, after the usual months of publishing preparations. I have referred to him as a stone carver, chipping out each perfect word with loving care. Certainly my confidence in the excellence of his writing was such that — without having read a word of the manuscript — I felt able to put the book in the Fall 1999 catalogue (going to the printer at the end of May) and to write him a letter in April outlining very precisely the generous terms we would offer for the new book, for which we would hold “a place of honour” in our fall list.

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Stephen Leacock
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is the second excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and OthersThey will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on humorist Stephen Leacock.]

In my experience, every humorous writer finds that his or her public confidently expects them to be a happy person, facing life with a wry chuckle, and perhaps a slow, smiling shake of the head. To his great credit, Leacock tried to shoot down this view. He wrote: “If a man has a genuine sense of humour he is apt to take a somewhat melancholy, or at least a disillusioned view of life. Humour and disillusionment are twin sisters.”

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Literature
Stories About Storytellers
Stories About Storytellers

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson with illustrations by Anthony Jenkins (Copyright © Douglas Gibson, 2011 Published by ECW Press)

[Editor’s note: This is the first of eight excerpts from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others. They will run every Friday for the next eight weeks. The following is an excerpt from a chapter on Alice Munro.]

When people ask me what Alice Munro is really like, I try to deal with the two halves of the complete Alice. One is the frowning, concerned good citizen, determined to do The Right Thing, and worrying her way towards it. That’s the Alice who some years ago quietly put me under pressure to make sure that her next book was printed on recycled environmentally friendly (and more expensive) paper. And this, I should note, was at a time when using recycled paper in books was still rare, and associated with new fringe books by small publishers, not major bestsellers by major writers published by major houses. So her choice had a huge impact.

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