News from Near and Far

I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, because I’ve been in China. While I was there I gave the show in Beijing, where the organizer of The Bookworm Literary Festival, Peter Goff, described me afterwards in these kind words:

Doug Gibson’s show brings you into the hearts and minds of Canada’s literary giants, wonderful writers he has edited and published and drank with and danced with over the years. Throughout his career Doug had a gift for identifying great storytellers. It clearly helped that he’s one himself.”

Later I flew to Shanghai, where I gave the show in the Canadian Consulate. It was gratifying, and fun, although only a very small proportion of China’s 1.3 billion population were able to attend.

But in a whirlwind tour, I was able to speak twice to groups assembled in our Embassy by the very able Ambassador, Guy St. Jacques, and gave a series of lectures at universities and libraries in Suzhou and Hangzhou (don’t worry, if you don’t know them, they only have 12 million people in each city). One day our consular people picked me up at my hotel at 7 a.m., and got me back at 11 p.m. Standing on guard for thee, spreading the word about our fine authors.

An amazing experience.

NOW, AN EVENT FOR ALL ALICE MUNRO FANS AROUND TORONTO:

On Thursday, April 16, through Sunday, April 19, at The Isabel Bader Theatre, Charles Street, Toronto, the San Francisco group Word for Word will be producing a remarkable read-and-acted version of two Alice Munro Stories, at 8 p.m.
On Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be involved in leading post-show discussions from the stage.

If you love Alice Munro, please come along. It should be a remarkable evening.
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Stories About Storytellers, Now in Paperback

stories_PBAs of April 2014, Stories About Storytellers is available as a paperback! This new edition includes a new chapter on Terry Fallis, an account of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win, and a print version of the  Storytellers Book Club, which debuted on this site.

The paperback version is available at all the usual retailers, including your local independent, Indigo, and Amazon.ca. It’s also available from the man himself, as he continues to tour Canada with Stories About Storytellers, the show, this year. Stay tuned for more engagement dates!

STRATFORD, CLINTON, AND ALICE MUNRO

ALICE MUNRO 1931– Not Bad Short Story Writer

ALICE MUNRO 1931– Not Bad Short Story Writer

My two Stratford shows – in the grand old City Hall building, right downtown, near the Avon theatre – were inspiring for me. The school show on Friday afternoon drew a crowd of adult friends, including Geoff Hancock , the former editor of Canadian Fiction (and photographer of Mavis Gallant), who now runs a B&B in Stratford, and the Stratford Festival’s David Prosser. But the main audience was a large group of high-school kids brought in by bus.

I was able to speak briefly about their home town to the kids from Exeter – home of the unique breed of all-white squirrels, and of the famous family of my Toronto  friend John MacNaughton, who died a few months ago.

I was, however, able to speak at much greater length to the Grade 12 kids from Clinton. This, of course, is the town where Alice Munro lives, and I was able to suggest to them how amazingly lucky they were to live in the same place as a world-famous writer who was putting their town on the literary map of the world, an internationally famous figure they might meet on the way to the Post Office. I talked about how her stories were set among people like their neighbours, and explained how famous Alice (“the living writer most likely to be read in 100 years time”, according to The Atlantic magazine) really was.

The next day word filtered back from a teacher that conversation among the kids on the bus home included the comment that this was the first time they had “ever felt proud about coming from Clinton”.

The next night’s show (part of Stratford’s Springworks Festival ) was for adults, and went fine. The sound man, who had worked at The Banff Centre and fallen under W.O. Mitchell’s spell, was hit hard by my final story about the unforgettable W.O.. After the show, our hosts, Lucille Roch and Warren Holmes, held a reception for us, and as we entered they kindly led a round of applause. It was a pleasant surreal moment (“I’m being applauded as I walk into a friend’s house!”), but it was nothing compared to the news of the impact on the kids from Clinton.

Remembering Brenda Davies

On Tuesday, January 14th, I went to the funeral of Brenda Davies. It was held in the University of Toronto’s Trinity College Chapel, where in 1995 the funeral of her husband, Robertson Davies, also took place.

That earlier funeral was a major national event, and I held the role of Honorary Pallbearer. It was a bitterly cold December day, I recall, and we were required to stand outside by the hearse for what seemed a very long time, while sotto voce comments were made about freezing funerals causing further losses. I, foolishly, was wearing only a raincoat, and the bitter experience led me to buy a fine warm, formal overcoat, which has seen many funerals since. This piece of sartorial history came to my mind as I solemnly put on that coat to attend Brenda’s funeral.

We all owe her a great debt. Ever since the day in 1940 when she, a young Australian, married Rob, a young Canadian, in besieged London, they were a full partnership. Not only did they raise three daughters together, Brenda brought her organising talents as a stage manager to their many stages in life. So she ran their household in Toronto when Rob worked at Saturday Night, then organised their lives in Peterborough when he was the editor of the Examiner (and thus a major local figure), then adapted to the role of chatelaine at Massey College when her husband became its founding Master, and later ran their lives in retirement in mid-town Toronto and at their country place in Caledon.

Throughout all this, she was the organising principle in his life. She was the driver in the family, and in more ways than those merely involving automobiles. Her great contribution was to clear the decks for Robertson Davies to get on with the intellectual, creative work that has enriched us all.

There seemed to be a general awareness of this at the affectionate but formal funeral, which filled the large Chapel, with many in attendance wearing the Massey College gown as a special gesture of respect. In my pew (as we sang “Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah” to the grand old Welsh tune “Cwm Rhondda”), I was struck by memories of her kindness to me over the years, at Massey, at their mid-town apartment, and at the Caledon retreat, where I was a guest even after Rob’s death. Her kindness stretched to very near the present: when my book came out, she described my chapter on her husband saying “Douglas Gibson has written an excellent account of Robertson Davies as the clever, witty, wise man that he was.”

He was indeed. And we shall never know exactly how much he owed to his wife, the remarkable Brenda Davies.