Mavis Gallant, the internationally celebrated Canadian short story writer, died in Paris on Tuesday morning. She was 91. An unflinching observer of the human condition, Ms. Gallant used her journalist’s nose and cinematographer’s eye to write tense and often hilarious narratives about characters at odds with their circumstances and surroundings. As writer Michael Ondaatje said in an e-mail, “I just adored her writing. Hers are the great stories of our time. So subtle, dangerous, hilarious. The full human condition. My hero.” He edited a selection of her European stories for The New York Review of Books and wrote in the introduction, “The characters who people Mavis Gallant’s Europe are complex and various. The same is true of her protean prose. She is light years away from writers who claim a recognizably indelible style and constant landscape, although we as readers do become accustomed to her chameleon nature, her quick pace and her sudden swerves, so that we watch and listen carefully for any ground shift of humour or sadness. Her tenderness arrives unexpectedly, while her wit is sly, almost too quick. Comic possibilities are everywhere.”
Here is more reaction to the master storyteller’s death:
Margaret Atwood, novelist, poet and commentator
“Mavis Gallant was a wonderful writer, a sharp observer of human nature, a formidable conversationalist, and an indomitable spirit who made her own way, often uphill. She was funny, quirky, and prickly if you crossed her, but kind underneath it, especially to underdogs. Her unique voice will be much missed.”
Alice Munro, short story writer (in an interview with CP)
“Mavis Gallant was a marvellous short story writer and a constant hopeful influence on my life. I knew about her work and the fact that she was a Canadian and she wrote mainly short stories, which you were not really encouraged to do as your main writing … So she was important to me in that way."
Doug Pepper, publisher and president, McClelland & Stewart
“Without exaggeration she was one of the finest writers Canada has ever known. Witty, brave, honest, fiercely independent, Mavis was a stunning writer who transformed the short fiction form. She was also a woman ahead of her time, blazing a trail of independence that took courage and determination that inspired legions of other authors who count her influence as seminal to their own careers. She will be deeply missed by us all, and will live on through her many books. I am very proud to be the Canadian publisher of The Journals of Mavis Gallant, edited by Steven Barclay and Fran Kiernan, which McClelland & Stewart will publish in spring 2015.”
Jane Urquhart, novelist and poet
“It is almost impossible to imagine Paris without Mavis Gallant being there. Her courage, her fierce dedication to her vocation, and, in particular, her brilliant stories have, in many ways, defined that city for me, and for many others. Each time I saw her there she was welcoming and generous, curious about me, my work, my daughter, while I, for my own part, was aware of the miracle of being in the presence of one of the great voices of the 20th century.
“She was also magnificent in conversation; tough, witty, sometimes beautifully acerbic, then just when you least expected it, warm, almost tender. I once remarked to her that she had been so kind to my teenaged daughter who was tagging along, so inclusive. (I had never been led to believe that Mavis Gallant ‘had a way’ with teenagers.) She looked surprised, then serious. ‘I saw the light in her face,’ she said.
“I think of a story like Voices Lost in Snow, or the displaced, postwar wanderers in the collection In Transit, the ordinary Parisians in Across the Bridge. Mavis’s viewpoint was so often that of the observer, seemingly dispassionate, but with an inner emotional depth that affects readers even more strongly for its discretion.
“She found a way to carve out a writer’s life in a world that did not make it easy for her. The stories she produced in that difficult workshop, however, are a permanent gift to us all.”
Steven Heighton, novelist and poet
“I read her Paris collection From the Fifteenth District when I was just starting to write, and I thought: This is a great writer, clearly, and she’s Canadian. Which was a real inspiration to a Canadian novice reared on a syllabus dominated by British and American greats. For years I’ve thought of her and Alice Munro as two of the world’s best fiction writers, and now with Munro retired and Gallant gone, an era has passed. It’s a passing we should consecrate by reading and rereading the stories.”
Sam Solecki, editor and literary criticReport Typo/Error