[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 Others, running every Friday. The following is from the chapter on W.O. Mitchell.]
But there is no doubt that W.O. was the opposite of the typical author, who likes the quiet, private life of a writer, but has to be pushed to do any promotion. W.O. so loved the promotion tour that he gave the impression of doing the troublesome writing stuff just as a preliminary for the real thing, the promotion tour, the interviews, and the readings.
His public performances, of course, are legendary. All of the doubts that he associated with the lonely act of writing (“like playing a dart game with the lights out,” he once famously observed), were removed by the instant response of the audience. As a one-time actor, he loved “the immediate thrust of a live audience as it responds to story magic,” and it showed. His performances were immaculately professional: voice husking or thundering, fist raised, white hair flying, mouth creased in a foxy grin, or eyes wide in innocent astonishment at a double entendre raising a laugh. His performances, now fortunately captured on audio cassette, were unforgettable, and he himself was perhaps the most outrageous character he ever created.