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Mavis Gallant, author, photographed at the Ritz Carleton, April 3, 2002 (John Morstad/The Globe and Mail)
Mavis Gallant, author, photographed at the Ritz Carleton, April 3, 2002 (John Morstad/The Globe and Mail)

The literary world reacts to Mavis Gallant’s death Add to ...

“It happened through her tone. When I started sending her my work, I didn’t know what a short story was, and I had no idea what she would say to me. I thought she might just tell me to stop, that I was wasting her time; I thought she might say she could make no sense of what I’d written. Instead, she became the first person whom I truly respected as a writer who made me feel that I could write. She read everything I sent her with complete seriousness, and told me what she thought was working and what she thought was not with equal honesty and clarity. She didn’t encourage me emptily or pretend that she could teach me everything, and she didn’t try to teach me to write the way she did. She gave me her attention and intelligence and perception, and by taking me seriously this way, she made me feel that I had something to offer. She was teaching me, but I felt that she was treating me as a colleague rather than as a student or a novice.

“People come into your life and change you in different ways. With some there are explosions; sometimes the impact is more subtle. The quality of Mavis Gallant’s attention – handwritten, at a distance, for a few months, many years ago – changed me. She read me like I was a writer, and that changed how I looked at myself.

“But what it meant was that I had to work, not that I had arrived anywhere. During the course, I came to see that I had to write something that arrested her; that not just anything would do. I would carry on being unsure, like she was in some of her letters to me. But by treating me the way she did, she taught me how to begin, and I’m still in her debt today.”

Ellen Seligman, publisher (fiction), McClelland & Stewart

“Mavis was a brilliant writer and observer of the human heart with all its conflicts. She was also a writer of great courage and accomplishment, who paved the way for many to follow, and who often wrote against all odds. Her passing is a major loss to Canada and the literary world.”

Erik Rutherford, writer and broadcaster

"I interviewed Mavis Gallant at Le Café du Dôme in Montparnasse in early 2006.  She ordered a grand crème and a tartine and we talked. After a couple hours, I worried I'd taken too much of her time, but she ordered another coffee and we stayed longer. She asked me about my life. At the time I was near the end of a long relationship, and I'd fallen for someone else. 'Is the second person reliable?' she asked. I said, no, I didn't think so. 'Well, then you're crazy.'

"She began to sing: 'If I choose one, then I lose one... I don't know what to do... I've got trouble, double trouble... I'm going cuckoo trying to be true to two...' She said it was a song her parents had danced to. 'You asked if I had a good memory and that just bubbled up!' she said.

"At some point she sighed and agreed that I was in a dilemma, and she told me about a recurring dream that she'd had for years and years: She has to choose between two men. The men are different in every dream, and the men don't know each other. Her one obsessive thought is to keep the two men apart until she can make up her mind. 'The last time I had it, one of them was seeing me off at the airport. I suddenly realize I haven't got a ticket but the other fellow has it because he's going with me... I'm trying to say goodbye to the one without hurting his feelings... I have to make a choice, but I don't want to choose, because the minute I do, I'm not going to want him. I don't want to be stuck. And I wake up in such a state of anxiety that you wouldn't believe!'

"I responded with something vague about how the dream is very close to life, and how we are in these dilemmas all the time. 

"She said, 'I think that if you're free, you are.'

Anne Michaels, poet and novelist

"Mavis Gallant's stories are almost astringent in their waking up of the reader. I feel an intense gratitude - and joy - for her unerring acuity and concision; absolute and breathtaking. She understood, in all its subtlety, the crucial distinction between making judgements and being judgmental. In this way, her stories were fearless. Her sly humour, her authority, her perception - all hewn from a clear acceptance of human frailty. Mavis was, simply, brilliant."

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