Douglas Maitland Gibson was born in December 1943, in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was raised in the small village of Dunlop (from which W.O. Mitchell’s ancestors came) and worked on farms during the summer. For high school he commuted to Glasgow Academy, where he encountered Stephen Leacock’s books in the Library, and worshipped his first Canadian author.
At University at St. Andrews he did everything but study — he was President of the Students’ Union, Features Editor and Rugby Correspondent for the student paper, part of a six-person student revue that took over the town theatre, and a member of the Scottish Universities Boxing team. In the end one professor refused to issue him with a paper for the final exam, until classmates intervened, assuring the Old English teacher that the unknown visitor was indeed part of the class. But he did win an essay prize, and a Rhodes-like graduate scholarship that took him to Yale.
After a Yale MA he headed north and in Victoria he entered Canada, as a Scottish immigrant with a very poor sense of direction, in September 1967, then moved east to Toronto. After a spell spent sleeping on friends’ floors, he got a job in the Registrar’s Office at McMaster University, and in March 1968 got his first job in Publishing, as a Trainee Editor with Doubleday Canada.
He became Managing Editor in 1969 (no comments, please, everyone was young) and stayed there until 1974, getting to know Canada by travelling widely, and by publishing books ranging from Eric Nicol’s Vancouver to Cassie Brown’s Death on the Ice, set in Newfoundland. The novels he edited in those years included Harold Horwood’s White Eskimo, Alan Fry’s controversial How a People Die and Harry J. Boyle’s book, defiantly entitled The Great Canadian Novel.
In 1974 his success with Barry Broadfoot’s bestseller Ten Lost Years, led Macmillan of Canada to hire him as Editorial Director of the Trade Division. This brought him in touch with many legends, such as Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, and W.O. Mitchell, all of whom he edited. He attracted to the house writers like Jack Hodgins, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, and worked with senior figures like Charles Ritchie and Bruce Hutchison, while introducing authors like Ken Dryden, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Christina McCall. In 1979 he became Macmillan’s Publisher.
It was largely this work at Macmillan from 1974 until 1986 that led the Canadian Booksellers Association in 1991 to give him The President’s Medal “for the many fine books he has created.” Between those dates, however, there had been an upheaval, when in January 1986 Avie Bennett bought M&S. Apparently he asked Jack McClelland what to do next, and Jack recommended hiring “young Gibson.”
In March 1986, young Gibson was lured to M&S to start the first editorial imprint in Canada, Douglas Gibson Books, which attracted authors with the promise that he would work directly with them. The plan worked, until September 1988 when Avie Bennett persuaded him to take over all of M&S as Publisher — although he continued to work on his imprint with a few chosen authors.
He became President and Publisher of M&S in 2000, when the company was sold, and in 2004, he reverted to his exclusive role as Publisher of Douglas Gibson Books. He retired from M&S in 2008, although he continues to shepherd some of his authors through the publishing system, so that their books, such as Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness (2009), emerge under his imprint. His authors have won every major Canadian book prize, most recently when Terry Fallis’s novel The Best Laid Plans won the 2011 CBC Canada Reads competition.