One of Canada’s distinguished international literary figures, Mavis Gallant, has signed contracts with McClelland & Stewart in Canada and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States to publish her private journals, it was announced Wednesday.
Gallant, who turns 90 in August, is most famous for her novellas and short stories, including Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories, winner of the 1981 Governor-General’s Award for fiction, although she also has written novels, plays, essays and journalistic pieces. Born in Montreal, she has called Europe, primarily Paris, her home for at least the past 60 years and since 1951 has published more than 100 stories in The New Yorker, a record for a female contributor to that magazine.
The journals span 1952 to 2007. No date has been set for the publication of the first volume, expected to cover 1952 to 1969, but it could be fall, 2013, more likely in 2014. It will be edited by U.S. agent Steven Barclay and biographer-editor Frances Kiernan. The acquiring editors are Knopf senior editor Victoria Wilson and Douglas Pepper, publisher, Signal/McClelland & Stewart. A British deal is expected to be announced shortly. Meanwhile, this summer, The New Yorker is scheduled to run an excerpt of about 13 pages from Gallant’s 1952 entries when she was living in Franco-era Barcelona and Madrid.
In a note to newspapers, Barclay described the journals, which run to thousands of pages, “all pretty much handwritten,” as “representing an amazing witness to the second half of the 20th century and the migrations of people in Europe since the Second World War. Mavis Gallant is the last of a generation.” It’s a measure of the esteem in which she is held as “a writer’s writer,” he added, that Gallant’s three major collections of short fiction available in the U.S. carry forewords by Michael Ondaatje, Russell Banks and Jhumpa Lahiri, the last the winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
“It’s an enormous honour for me [to co-edit the journals],” Barclay, a friend of Gallant for 25 years, said in a brief interview from Paris. “There is no writer I admire more.” At the same time, “it is a huge job to edit them, dealing with an original document and footnotes and research on people.” Another concern is what stays and what may be excised because, he said, “these are diaries that were written for her; they were not like the John Cheever journals, which were written with an audience in mind. These are really, really quite personal, full of many, many details.”