Canadian writer and artist RM Vaughan was found dead after going missing in his native New Brunswick earlier this month. Scroll down to read more appreciations.
Alana Wilcox is the editorial director of Coach House Books
I knew Richard Vaughan as the author of four Coach House books – Camera, Woman (1998); The Monster Trilogy (2003); Troubled (2008); and Bright-Eyed: Insomnia and its Cultures (2014). The range of these books – two plays, poetry, non-fiction – is beyond impressive, as he wrote exquisitely in every genre, with panache and precision, and with impeccable professionalism. Beyond his books, he wrote incisive arts criticism, including for The Globe and Mail, and thought pieces that showcased the enormousness of both his intellect and his heart. His Globe piece in July on the mental-health repercussions of the pandemic seems particularly poignant now.
Richard was also a dear friend, one of the first literary people I met in Toronto in the early nineties, where he was already a queer icon. Even then, he seemed to be from another era: He always brought a gift when he visited Coach House – some plastic spiders, maybe, or a wee plant, even if he disapproved of our brand of tea. He always sent thank-you cards and always remembered the names of everyone’s children and pets. He enjoyed gossip and a well-timed caustic remark, but he cared for his friends like few others.
His wit was notorious; he was legendary as a flirtatious yet insulting guest bartender at Coach House’s annual Wayzgoose party, and his e-mails were rife with hilariously inappropriate jokes, none of which can be repeated in a newspaper. And nearly every message contained a cat photo, maybe a friend’s pet or maybe Photoshopped beside an image of Jesus.
The last book of Richard’s that we published was Bright-Eyed, a look at his own relentless insomnia and the larger cultural implications of the sleeplessness epidemic. We launched the book at Toronto arts space Videofag, and Richard wanted the entertainment to include fake wrestling.
The connection between insomnia and half-naked sock wrestling is lost to the mists of time, if it ever existed, but it says a lot about Richard that I was neither surprised nor worried about underwear-clad men knocking each other over at a celebratory book event. We have photographic evidence of the evening, but Richard managed to evade capture; typically, he both wanted and shunned the spotlight. He also shunned the cheese tray we brought along, laughing that “no self-respecting gay would be seen eating cheese in public.” As always, he was right.
Read more appreciations of RM Vaughan
- Vivek Shraya: ‘RM consistently showed me kindness and generosity – a reminder of how vital kindness from strangers is’
- Bert Archer: ‘He was, like Derek McCormack and Kathy Acker and Gary Indiana, someone a small group thinks the world of’
- Andrew Gorham: ‘I asked him if he would be a columnist for [The Globe], He agreed, warning me he was nobody’s fool, and would say whatever the hell he wanted’