Skip to main content

Greg Gatenby was controversial when he ran Harbourfront's International Festival of Authors, which he founded in 1980, and he remains controversial a year after leaving the Toronto festival's employ. It is the nature of larger-than-life figures to be controversial. They make passionate friends as they work their magic -- in Mr. Gatenby's case, building Harbourfront's literary festival and reading series and treating authors as stars. And they make passionate enemies as they battle for turf; Mr. Gatenby demanded unreasonably that invited authors turn down later engagements unconnected to Harbourfront.

Greg Gatenby loves books. For more than three decades, he has collected literary first editions and asked authors toinscribe the first printings of their books to him. He now has 28,000 books, most inscribed, that he wants to sell. He said so at a Nov. 24 press conference, and promised to restrict the bidding for two weeks to any Canadian buyers willing to pay $2-million for the lot. That deadline passed Tuesday night. Much as Canadian libraries would love to have this record of the growth of the pre-eminent North American reading festival, they can't afford it.

The controversy attached to the books is the way he received them. He bought most of them himself, but many -- he says 25 per cent -- were promotional copies sent to the festival. The concept of book reviewers keeping copies of books they review is established, but Mr. Gatenby received them in his capacity as overlord of the festival. He says they are his property; the festival declines to comment; possession may be nine-10ths of the law. He does deserve credit for keeping them together.

Story continues below advertisement

He says he can't afford to donate all the books as a collection, and there is no reason to doubt him. But the festival was a two-way street. Even as he made it into the success story it is today, he also benefited from it and from the chance to indulge his passion for books and to be first in line for inscriptions from the many authors he invited. It is not unreasonable to hope, and even expect, that while he is free to sell the books he bought however he wishes, he might find a way to donate those books he received through Harbourfront to a library willing to give them a good home, as a collection in his honour and in return for a tax receipt to benefit him now or later.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter