The late Mavis Gallant was a Canadian short filmmaker whose work is internationally recognized. A technical master, adept at pushing the boundaries of form, Gallant is widely admired as one of Canada’s finest short story writers.
She wrote over 100 short stories, most of them published in The New Yorker magazine before appearing in well-known collections such as Montreal Stories, Going Ashore and From the fifteenth arrondissement. Often in his stories there are themes of dislocation and dispossession, conveyed with sensitivity and powers of observation derived from Gallant’s unique life and upbringing.
This year marks the centennial of Gallant’s birth, as she was born on August 11, 1922.
In 2008, Mavis Gallant spoke to Eleanor Wachtel in Paris when her book, From the fifteenth arrondissementwas a Canada reads finalist and championed by Nova Scotian author Lisa Moore. A replay of their conversation will air on CBC Radio Writers and Company on August 7, 2022, in honor of Gallant’s centennial.
In memory of Gallant’s life and work, check out these 30 facts you might not know about the Canadian literary legend.
1. Mavis Gallant was born Mavis Leslie to Trafford Young in Montreal on August 11, 1922.
2. She was the only child of Albert Stewart Roy of Trafford Young and Benedictine Wiseman.
3. Gallant studied at 17 different public schools, convents and boarding schools while growing up. When she was four years old, her parents sent her to boarding school in a French convent located a stone’s throw from their home.
4. His path to writing took shape at a young age. In a 2009 interview with Shelagh Rogers, Mavis Gallant said that her love for literature was partly motivated by the fact that she was an only child. “If you’re an only child, you’re there like the dining room table,” she said. Gallant noted that as a child she read often and overheard a lot of adult conversation.
6. Her father died when she was ten years old. Shortly after, her mother remarried and left Canada, leaving her in the care of a guardian. Gallant learned that his father lived in England and was unaware of his death until he was 13, when a friend of his mother’s mentioned his death.
7. She spent most of the years from 1935 to 1940 — until she graduated from high school – in and around New York City, the setting for many of her early stories.
8. She has no post-secondary education. “I never went to college, I just started living my life,” she says.
10. From 1944 to 1950, she worked as a reporter for the Montreal Standard. In her 2008 interview with Eleanor Wachtel, she recalled how she walked into the newspaper’s office: “I went and said I was looking for a job in a newspaper, but I don’t want to do women’s work. . So I was interviewed standing in a hallway by someone who I don’t think could even have hired me.” She was told she was too young, but joined the paper under contract the following year.
11. Before that, she worked for the National Film Board in her twenties, but hated it, noting that women didn’t have a lot of responsibilities.
12. His first published stories appeared in Preview (1944), the Standard (1946) and Northern Review (1950), according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
13. Gallant has been praised for the precision of her writing. She often rewrote an entire page because a single sentence wasn’t right.
14. She was determined to make a living from her writing and planned to throw away all her drafts and notebooks if it didn’t work out, she said the parisian review.
16. She was fluent in French and English – this bilingualism proved an advantage, allowing her to move to Paris.
17. On leaving for Europe, she destroyed all of her journals and most of her notebooks – except for anything that was converted into dialogue because she was afraid she would forget how Canadians spoke.
18. Before Paris, she briefly lived in Spain, teaching English classes while waiting for the checks to arrive for her New Yorker stories.
19. She moved into a small apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, where she remained until her death.
20. Many of her stories were first published in The New Yorker magazine, which fueled her early career long before she gained widespread recognition in Canada.
21. His first short story published internationally, Madeline’s birthday, appeared in The New Yorker on September 1, 1951.
23. Some of Gallant’s latest news was accepted by The New Yorker without his knowledge. His literary agent pocketed the royalties for some of his stories, telling Gallant the magazine turned them down. It wasn’t until she came across a copy of The New Yorker in a library in Madrid that she discovered that these stories had indeed been published.
24. Although she lived in Paris for most of her life, she never renounced her Canadian citizenship or applied for French citizenship.
25. In addition to his short stories, Gallant has published two novels, Green water, green sky and A pretty good timeand a play, What is there to do?, which premiered at the Tarragon Theater in Toronto on November 11, 1982. She was known to have a preference for writing short stories.
26. She returned to Canada as a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in the early 1980s. She told the Guardian that it was “completely pointless work. You’re with people who have no talent, and if they had any, they wouldn’t come to me.” However, the only perk was getting a 20% discount at the campus bookstore. She distributed copies of Em Forster or Vladimir Nabokov – which she said were “good for the soul” – to promising students.
28. In 2006, Gallant became the first English-language writer to receive the prestigious Prix Athanese-David literary award for lifetime achievement presented by the Government of Quebec. Previous recipients are Félix-Antonine Savard, Michel Tremblay and Jacques Poulin.
29. Mavis Gallant received the Molson Prize for the Arts from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1996. The jury citation read: “For more than four decades, Mavis Gallant has provided more than a generation of writers with an example of the devoted writer who has committed her life and her writing to the pursuit of excellence. Without it, Canadians would not have the literary culture they have now. She has rendered an extraordinary service to her country and her culture.
30. Mavis Gallant died on February 18, 2014.. She was 91 years old.