Mavis Gallant died in February. For those of you who have never heard of her, she was a renowned Canadian writer of superb short stories. I listened to a discussion of her life and interviews with friends and acquaintances on “As It Happens” on CBC radio Tuesday evening as hubby was making dinner.

Although a Canadian, Gallant lived most of her adult life in Paris. She was honored numerous times for her work and was also incredibly private, rarely giving interviews and, interestingly, organizing her life to enable her work and not her fame. I read in one article that her neighbors in Paris did not even know she was a writer. Mavis Gallant was 91 years old.

You can read a much more detailed article about her life and work here.

I loved her stories. It’s funny because we were just talking about her at my book club on Sunday afternoon. How some of us loved her work..and others of us had never heard of her.

And on the evening of her death listening to the interviewer talk about Gallant made me think of all the other Canadian writers who are gone now, but not necessarily forgotten. And which writers might be my top five Canadian writers… who are no longer with us. And what an interesting book club discussion it would be.

And then I thought, why wait for book club?

So…. here are My Top Five Canadian Writers Who are No Longer with Us.

1. Carol Shields.

I love her work. All of it.
Her early novels are actually my favourites, Box Garden and Swann: A Mystery, in particular. I also loved the much better known Stone Diaries. And her short biography of Jane Austen.
I chatted with her once in the 90’s at a poetry reading and book signing event. She was lovely and gracious. She commented on  my hat. It was one of the very few occasions when I felt brave enough to wear one of my vintage hats. Carol Shields died in 2003.

2. Gabrielle Roy

I started reading Gabrielle Roy’s books in the 1980’s having discovered them at my local vintage book store in Ottawa. I loved The Tin Flute , perhaps one of her best known works. But it was the  novel Where Nests the Water Hen which really captured my heart. Her characters are models of “grace under pressure” to steal a line from Hemingway. If you haven’t read her novels…you should.

Gorgeous, wasn’t she?!

3. Timothy Findley

I thought that Piano Man’s Daughter was one of the best books I have ever read. Best known for his novels, Findley was also a playwright. My friend S. and I were lucky enough (and thrilled) to see his play Elizabeth Rex during its debut season at the Stratford Festival in 2000. The play depicts Shakespeare on the last night of his life, musing about his life and an encounter between his acting troupe, and one actor in particular, and Elizabeth I. My friend and I thought it was a riveting play and were quite frankly stunned when we heard other friends did not feel the same. I mean really… gender, death, politics, allusions to the AIDS epidemic… Findley makes you think of so many issues with this work….  how could you not be riveted?

You can read a much better review of the play and its themes here.

4. Lucy Maud Montgomery

This one was a toss up between two writers whose work had a big effect on my childhood.

Mary Grannan, from my hometown (she was my mother’s first grade teacher), wrote the Maggie Muggins series and had her own CBC radio show (Just Mary) and even a TV show in the 60’s. I still have all the books, tattered though some of them are. And still love them.

But it was really L.M. Montgomery’s books that I think I cherished more. Particularly the Anne series. I loved the drama and imagination of Anne. And when my mum married my step-father and we moved to a big farmhouse…green and white…with my new bedroom and its  “gable” window…well, I thought I was Anne reincarnated! That is if one can be said to be reincarnated from a fictional character.

5. Fred Cogswell

And finally…this one was a dark horse. Fred Cogswell was a Canadian poet, scholar, literary editor, and co-founder of Fiddlehead Books (which is an icon in Can Lit circles.) Born in the tiny farming community of East Centreville New Brunswick, he went on to become an influential writer and thinker. And mentor to younger generations of poets and writers. He was also a professor at The University of New Brusnwick…where I took a class from him in the 70’s.
I didn’t know anything about him when I first walked into his class. At 19, I didn’t know much about anything, really. To me he was a funny little man, kind of round, with stuff spilled on his tie and a voice that sounded a tiny bit like Elmer Fudd. He was probably 60 years old then.

But his poetry blew me away!

I have never forgotten his poem

“The Senses”

My mind opens the windows of my eyes
and I see you standing straight and clear
although you are
                     miles and years away
When memory moves the inner ear
deep inside
                   I hear your voice
and smile with sudden joy
And sometimes in a vacant room
the familiar scent of you
                                  now and then
as from a flower breathes
But what my mind loves most
the touch and taste of you
                                       is dead
except through masks of other women.

Whoa! At 19 I could not conceive that the aging man at the front of the lecture hall had  lived a sensual life, had known infatuation and love, felt desire. More fool me…more young and immature fool me.

I’ve never forgotten that poem nor the lessons about life I learned upon reading it.

Well, that’s my Top Five Canadian Writers who are gone now. But definitely not forgotten.

It was hard trying to whittle it down to only five.

But interesting.

Who would be on your list?


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