SEE MY NEW SHOW NEAR HOME THIS FALL

After Labour Day, we all change gear, and get serious about our lives. So, if you’re serious about seeing my show about our 150th Anniversary, here’s a list of places to see CANADA’S GREATEST STORYTELLERS/ LES GRANDS RACONTEURS CANADIENS 1867– 2017.
In chronological order:–
NOVA SCOTIA Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival Friday 29th September
ONTARIO Whitby, Durham Lifelong Learning Association Tuesday 3 October 2.00 pm
Eden Mills Literary Festival, Special Event, Friday 6 October, evening.
QUEBEC Knowlton Book Festival, Friday 13 October, evening.
Hudson Story Festival. , Tuesday 24 October, evening
ONTARIO Ottawa, Public Library Event (back in Ottawa by public demand!) held in the Woodside Hall , Dominion Chalmers Church, 355 Cooper Street, 7.00 pm.
Toronto, Lifelong Learning Group , Knox College, U.of T. Thursday Nov. 2, 2pm.
London, Book Festival, London Museum, Sunday Nov. 5, afternoon.
Kitchener, Public Library, Thursday Nov. 9, evening.
Toronto, Leaside Public Library, Tuesday Nov. 14, 2pm.

The list of events continues to grow, day by day. Look out, for instance, for possible events in Montreal and in Guelph.
In Spring 2018, the show will go on, and bookings are coming in…..all the way to Summer 2019!
I look forward to meeting you and your friends.

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A GREAT HONOUR FOR MY FIRST BOOK

Here is what Terry  Fallis entered, at Kobo’s request, to celebrate Canada Day this year. Look at the authors he chose :– Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Donald Jack………and Douglas Gibson!
Read on.

5 books that say “Canada”

Posted by Terry Fallis June  30, 2017
Fallis Terry_2008_cr. Tim Fallis

1. The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies captures small town life in Canada as only one who grew up in several small towns could. With its gentle humour, brilliant sentences, and captivating storytelling, this, to me, is a supremely Canadian tale.

2. Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

This fine novel tells the story of three generations of the Gursky family and cuts a broad swath through the country’s history and geography. Any story that includes a plane crash, rum-running, and the Franklin Expedition puts a check mark in the “Canadian” box.

3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Few stories capture the distinctly Canadian humour, tone, and sensibility as well as Anne of Green Gables. While the musical may now be more popular than the book, it’s well worth revisiting the L.M. Montgomery’s classic for a few laughs, a few tears and a dollop of national pride.

4. Three Cheers for Me by Donald Jack

If you want to read a hilarious novel that captures the Canadian role in the Great War through the eyes of an oblivious horse-faced farm boy from Eastern Ontario (and who doesn’t?), I give you Three Cheers for Me. Written by the three-time Leacock Medal winning Donald Jack, this is a comic masterpiece, and oh so Canadian.

5. Stories About Storytellers by Douglas Gibson

Canadian writers have played a profound role in shaping how we view our own country. The history of Canadian literature is a critical strand running through the history of Canada. Why not read about some wonderful Canadian storytellers in a fantastic book by Douglas Gibson, an editor and publisher who has worked with some of Canada’s most influential writers including Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, and W.O. Mitchell? You’ll thank me.

Terry Fallis is a Canadian author and two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, winning in 2008 for his debut novel, The Best Laid Plans, and in 2015 for No Relation. To date, all five of his published books have been shortlisted for the award.

COMMENTARY

You can imagine how thrilled I am to be in this company. I have strong links with all of the other four authors.

I edited many ROBERTSON DAVIES books, starting with World of Wonders, the third in the trilogy started by Fifth Business. It is, of course, a superb book, and features in my show about CANADA’S GREATEST STORYTELLERS.

I knew MORDECAI RICHLER well, although I never edited his work. He, too, features in my new STORYTELLERS show, where he and I feud as his weary letters begin  “Gibson, Gibson”. Much of the excellent Solomon Gursky book is set in Magog, around the corner from my beloved North Hatley in the Eastern Townships.

Like every Canadian publisher, I published several of LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY’S books, including Anne of Green Gables,( with an “E”). I talk about her in the STORYTELLERS show, noting that it was her Emily of New Moon that set young Alice Munro off on a writing career.

DONALD JACK is a great hidden comic genius. He  brought out  Three Cheers For Me in 1962, and its Wodehousian treatment of Bartholomew Bandy’s adventures among the horrors of Flanders Fields raised many eyebrows. When he brought me a second volume in 1972 ( entitled That’s Me In The Middle), I reshuffled the new book and Three Cheers For Me, so that they became part of  a continuing series.  Don generously signed the 1972 edition of Three Cheers For Me  with the words “For the originator of The Bandy Papers, Douglas Gibson”, so you can imagine how pleased I was to find him included here by Terry.

As for DOUGLAS GIBSON, words fail. But if anyone reading this has not yet read Stories About Storytellers, I hope you’ll see if  you agree with Terry’s generous assessment.

THE ORDER OF CANADA………NOT BAD, EH?

Today, June 30, 2017, has been a special day in my life. The 99 new members of The Order of Canada listed in the press included Douglas Maitland Gibson.
I am very pleased, and humbled, and proud. I hope that you, as a reader of my blog, can share that pride.
Those who have received the Order know that there’s a long nomination procedure that can run for many months. I, quite properly, stayed aloof from the whole process. Jane, however, was very helpfully involved. My wife would be good at running a secret spy network.
Now may be the time to thank my chief Nominator, Marc Cote, known to all as the Publisher of Cormorant Books. Marc (who tells me that he has a very successful record as a sponsor), researched my biography and wrote persuasive letters on my behalf. He also arranged letters of support from ( I have just learned) three very impressive literary figures, Erna Paris, Jack Hodgins, and Guy Vanderhaeghe.
You can imagine how grateful I am to all of them.
I won’t repeat the Citation that came from Rideau Hall, but it certainly makes me sound like a very impressive figure. And it’s especially pleasing that I arrived in Canada (as a penniless Scottish immigrant, with straw in my hair) in a significant year….1967!
Now Jane and I are looking forward to the Ottawa ceremony, and the formal dinner, when mingling with the very distinguished group of other nominees seems certain to be great fun. And if Mike Myers happens to be in our group. I’ll ask him how on earth he came up with the name of his latest TV show character, Tommy Maitland.

In Memoriam: Avie Bennett (as published by PEN Canada)

By | June 15, 2017 at 12:36 pm | No comments | Blog | Tags: ,

Avie Bennett, publisher, philanthropist and dedicated supporter of PEN Canada, passed away on June 2, 2017. Douglas Gibson reflects on Bennett’s life, work and support of writers and freedom of expression.

In Memoriam: Avie Bennett

Douglas Gibson and Avie Bennett, M&S, McClelland & Stewart

Douglas Gibson and Avie Bennett. (Photo courtesy of Douglas Gibson)

Avie grew up in a Jewish family in a Toronto where he saw signs posted on beaches that were “Closed to Dogs and Jews.” That experience shaped him, and was part of what drew him to the world of publishing, with its central belief that good books can make the world a better place.

After making his fortune in the tough arena of Toronto real estate, he became helpfully involved in trying to save Jack McClelland’s indebted publishing company, McClelland & Stewart. In 1986, to his surprise he bought the legendary company. He liked to tell the story that having made this impulsive leap, he asked Jack what he should do now. Jack apparently suggested that he should try to hire the rival publisher of Macmillan of Canada, “young Doug Gibson”. He did so, giving me the first editorial imprint in Canada. Eighteen months years later, in September 1988, he hired me to take over as the publisher of M&S.

For the rest of his time as chairman and owner, until 2000, we worked side by side, spending countless hours together. This meant that I had a privileged view of Avie in action, and saw how his deepest beliefs affected the world of books.

For example, PEN members will be interested to hear that when Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, fell under a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1989, it produced a march of enraged Muslims in Toronto, chanting death threats against the author. Avie’s reaction was to propose an instant campaign of resistance, where M&S, and every publishing company in Canada, would defiantly display the controversial book at their reception desks. We were prepared not only to do so ourselves, but to organise a Canada-wide campaign, but when we approached the book’s publisher, Penguin, they pleaded with us not to do so, for the safety of all involved. I’m not sure that they were right.

In matters concerning freedom of speech, Avie was a solid defender of publishing freedoms, fighting against people like Conrad Black who were inclined to shut down embarrassing book investigations of their world. In the political arena, M&S was deliberately non-partisan, bringing out books by authors ranging from Pierre Trudeau to Brian Mulroney, and from Elizabeth May to Preston Manning. It was an ongoing demonstration of faith in the power of the classic belief that if you allow everyone to make their case in a careful, well-argued way, in the market-place of ideas the best case will win, eventually.

As a boss, Avie was outspoken and frank. He was part of the editorial meetings that I chaired, where new book ideas were floated, sometimes successfully (“Why don’t we approach John Crosbie to write a book?”) and sometimes not (too many examples to give any details, including books that went on to success elsewhere). All of the management books about encouraging employee suggestions would frown on outbursts from Avie along the lines of “That’s the stupidest book idea I’ve ever heard” but it was accepted by us because it was Avie – the same Avie who would reprimand a famous author, and threaten to cancel his publicity tour, for being rude to a young publicist.

The celebrity agent Michael Levine called Avie and me “The Odd Couple” because he was a very successful businessman, which I was not, he was Jewish while I sounded like an RCMP Corporal from Central Casting, he was a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks, while I was a fancy-pants literary guy who edited Robertson Davies, and he admired the finest liquor, while I was a prim tee-totaller. But we got along very well together, and published many fine books. I was proud to go to Sweden in 2013 with Avie as part of the group celebrating Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize. Despite all of his other achievements in many worlds that I have not been able to mention here, that event was a high point in the life of a great Canadian, Avie Bennett.

Douglas Gibson worked with Avie Bennett at M&S as the Publisher from 1988 to 2000, then as the President till 2004. After he left the company in 2007 he became an author, with Stories About Storytellers (2011) and Across Canada By Story (2015). He is now touring the country with a new stage show, Canada’s Greatest Storytellers  1867–2017.

OPTIONS FOR MY NEW SHOW

First, of course, an affectionate word about AVIE BENNETT, who passed away four days ago. Jane and I were in Vancouver when the Toronto Star tracked me down for a phone interview about Avie in Stanley Park.  It was strangely appropriate for a man who took the M&S description, “The Canadian Publishers”, so seriously.

I was glad that The Star devoted a front-page story to Avie’s life and death. My own recollections of working daily with him as the Publisher of McClelland & Stewart when he was the Chairman , from 1988 till 2000, are vivid and proud. The Star story ended with my recollection of my May 23 show at the Lieutenant Governor’s Chambers in Queen’s Park. I had  begun by thanking everyone for coming, recognising my 10 year-old nephew Alistair (who leapt to his feet with unrestrained enthusiasm), and then noting the presence of 89-year old Avie, who was there on a walker , with the help of his friend Bill Ross. It had taken him a great deal of trouble and determination to come to my show, to support me, and I spoke briefly about his role in supporting Canadian writers.

Without prompting, the audience burst into warm applause. Avie was delighted.

He died ten days later, after this final triumphant public appearance.

I’ll be writing a fuller appreciation later.

 

Now that I’ve given my Sesquicentennial shows celebrating ” CANADA’S GREATEST STORYTELLERS / LES PLUS GRANDS RACONTEURS CANADIENS  1867 — 2017″  in various places, a few options have emerged.

OPTION ONE: The full show, with an Intermission when we reach 1967. This is the show I have given in Ottawa on April 29,  and (in more polished form) at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver on May 31. This is also the form chosen by a number of Literary Festivals across the country for the next few months.

The next such event, running almost two hours, including the Intermission, will be on the roof of Ontario, where so many rivers start, at FLESHERTON on JUNE 9, at 7pm.  Tickets are still available. Contact museum@greyhighlands  for details about the show in the Kineplex.

OPTION TWO: A condensed 50-minute version of the show, concentrating on the modern era, from 1967 to the present. This is the version that I gave at The Lieutenant Governor’s Queen’s Park Chambers. Susan Swan the novelist was in the audience, and kindly called it ” a witty historical medley of Canadian writerly talent…How fortunate Canada is that you are doing your show across the country. If only there were more Doug Gibsons going out in the world to tell it about our great literary tradition, our wonderful history of writers and writing.”

OPTION THREE: The first 100 Years, from 1867 to 1967.  This version, running one hour, has already been chosen by some Ontario groups. In every case, of course, I deal with our major writers in English and in French, and the show is enlivened by bursts of Canadian music, and the work of other Canadian artists from the time. And always, of course, I speak about the author against the background caricature by the brilliant Anthony Jenkins.

I’m still building a National Tour. Please let any interested group (Library/Bookstore/Museum/ Community) know about the shows we can bring to them. Contact me at doug1929@rogers.com

THE NEW SHOW IS BEING LAUNCHED…MAYBE NEAR YOU!

At last, I’m able to give some news about my new 2017 show “CANADA’S GREATEST STORYTELLERS/ LES GRANDS RACONTEURS CANADIENS  1867–2017”

We held an Open Dress Rehearsal for it at our local Toronto Library, at Deer Park, on Saturday April 22. About 30 brave people showed up, and gave very useful comments.  To incorporate them, Jane and I have amended the very comprehensive show — with lots of music, and scores of fine Canadian works of art over the full 150 years . I’m happy to report that people in the audience stayed for the whole show, which runs for almost two hours, including the 10-minute Intermission, which comes when we arrive at 1967!

Nobody lobbed any over-ripe fruit, or shouted abuse. One audience member, impressed by my inclusion of our greatest novelists in French, came up and made my day by congratulating me en Francais!

The volleys of tomatoes may come in OTTAWA this SATURDAY , APRIL 29, when we launch the show at The Ottawa Book Festival. To be precise, the Launch is at 4.00 p.m., not in The National Library (as was originally planned) but in CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL, ON SPARKS STREET. ( The grand setting seems to have been always  in the cards: during the show Leonard Cohen sings “Hallelujah” . My friend Charles Gordon, mindful of my acrobatic disaster in London’s Canada House, has admonished me “Don’t fall off the altar!”)

If you live near Ottawa , or have friends who do, please come along. We’re hoping for a full house, and much laughter.

THEN ,  TORONTO.

First, on MONDAY , MAY 8, there will be a Private Show at the ARTS AND LETTERS CLUB, built around the Dinner that begins at 6.15. If you have friends who are members, now’s your chance.

Then on Tuesday 23, The Lieutenant Governor,Elizabeth Dowdeswell , will be holding a Toronto Launch in her OFFICIAL CHAMBERS for the new show. Details are still being worked out. Please let me know if you’d like to be invited to that afternoon/evening event.

Then VANCOUVER.

On WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, I’ll be giving the show at THE S.F.U. HARBOUR CENTRE DOWNTOWN, starting at 7.00pm. Please tell your Vancouver friends.

Then, as word spreads about this remarkable “show in a box” that Jane and I hope to take to every community that’s interested, we’ll be on our travels.
Please think about any organisation or group that might like to invite us, and suggest it to them.

Good luck to us all!

 

Remembering Stuart McLean

Stuart McLean was once my boss. He was the Producer of the CBC radio show, Sunday Morning, from 1981 to 1983, and I was the programme’s weekly movie reviewer from ‘81 to ‘84.

It was a whirlwind environment, a little like a student newspaper, with excited, bright, young people dashing out on to Jarvis Street from the old red-brick building to record street noises for the final section of a profile that was already 95% “in the can”.  Stuart was right at home in the middle of the whirlwind, chatting, and laughing, and losing things, and encouraging the troops. He was, as everyone who saw him on-stage knows, a resolutely “aw-shucks” guy. Word filtered out that his cheerfully unrehearsed acceptance speeches, when his show won international awards, caused scowls at “The Kremlin”, the CBC headquarters.

Yet I know that he could be an inspiring leader. My contact with the show was through the superb Suanne Kelman (who fiercely taught me “how to breathe” on the air) and after 10 rigorous takes and re-takes of my 3-minute piece, I would go home before noon on Saturday. Once, my restful afternoon was marked by a phone call from Stuart.

“Doug, I’ve just heard your review for tomorrow’s show, and I wanted to tell you how great it is to have you doing your movie reviews for us.” Other compliments followed. And I swelled with pride and pleasure, and remembered the incident fondly, as you can see.

Some years later, I almost became his boss, or at least his Publisher. I had just started my own imprint at M&S and had lunch with Stuart to discuss his future, since at the time he was selling traffic barrier equipment, which was not the ideal road to success. Stuart had some interesting ideas for heading into the book world. I warmly encouraged him to develop his plans for a book. But I explained that I was busy bringing major authors who had already published with me to my new Douglas Gibson Books imprint. To be loyal to Avie Bennett, who had arranged my new home at M&S, I suggested that I would be glad to promote his new book idea to Adrienne Clarkson and her team at M&S. I did so, with enthusiasm…..and was astonished when later they turned him down. Fourteen Penguin titles, and more than a million book sales later……

The only figure I can compare Stuart with – as an author who became a beloved performer across the country… is W.O.Mitchell.  Stuart and he met through their mutual friend Peter Gzowski, and I know they hit it off right away. I like to think that W.O. spotted Stuart as a blood brother, another guy who loved travelling around and meeting ordinary Canadians in places large and small. I believe that W.O. knew by instinct that he would turn into a major storyteller. Certainly Stuart loved spending time with W.O., and was a good friend to him.

For instance, when we issued tapes of W.O.’s stage performances, it took me no time at all to persuade Stuart to contribute a fond Introduction to “An Evening With W.O. Mitchell”. He said “Hello, I’m Stuart McLean, and I’ve been a fan of W.O. Mitchell ever since I heard him read when I was in University. So I’m delighted to be part of this Tribute to W.O. Mitchell, the Writer and the Performer…”

After W.O. died, a fund-raiser for the Writers’ Trust featured an auction for one of his snuff-boxes. Stuart was a determined bidder until almost the end, when a very rich rival won. When the Mitchell family learned of Stuart’s disappointment, they sent him another of W.O.’s snuff-boxes. Orme Mitchell still remembers the touchingly grateful letter he received.

As for me, I stayed in touch with my old friend.  I remember disappointing him at The Royal York at a Bookseller’s Awards Ceremony where he was the MC. When I stepped up to the platform to accept an award won by Alice Munro, he said “Aww, it’s Doug”, in sinking tones. Once I was the MC at A Different Drummer Books event in Burlington, where by contrast I had fun at his expense.

The fun stopped when he fell ill with melanoma, although in our phone chat early in 2016 he was very upbeat, confident about the odds. When I called ten days ago, I spoke to Stuart’s son, Robbie, who told me that his father was sleeping. Two days before he died I left a fond message on his answering machine, a message into limbo from an old friend, who now knows that it’s always later than you think.