To Ottawa, Once Again

A very different trip, this time, from the literary pleasures of the Writers’ Festival. Here I had two missions. First, to deliver a (very speculative) speech to a group assembled at the U. of Ottawa by the Canadian Conference of The Arts (a pro-arts lobby group that I volunteered for in the mid-’80s). The Exec. Director, Alain Pineau, spoke about the situation for Quebec publishers, and I talked about the scene in English Canada, for publishers and writers, and the dangers of prediction. To stress the uncertain climate I quoted both the Book of Proverbs (“the movement of a lizard on a rock”) and October’s Vanity Fair (“half of New York’s publishing companies will be out of business within five years.”) About a dozen of my books were sold, perhaps as a result of panic buying.

The second speech wrapped up the ACSUS Conference, of teachers of Canadian Studies at U.S. universities, with over 500 people in attendance. I roamed around the sessions for a couple of days (intervening once to say that, no, I didn’t believe that Canadian newspapers would systematically decide not to review a novel because it was critical of the oil industry). I then learned that, plenary or no plenary, it is not good to be the final Saturday speaker at a four-day conference. So my host-interviewer Robert Thacker and I simply moved down from the remote speaker’s platform onstage and produced a very informal session at floor-level for the die-hards remaining, some of whom had found copies in Ottawa bookstores for me to sign. Best of all, the session allowed me to spend time with Bob Thacker, the world’s greatest authority on Alice Munro, and her biographer, and a man very complimentary about my book – which benefits greatly from his work on the amazing Alice.

— Douglas Gibson


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