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Novelist and short-story writer Alistair MacLeod dies at 77

Alistair MacLeod (photo: Chris Cameron)

Alistair MacLeod (photo: Chris Cameron)

Alistair MacLeod, one of Canada’s greatest short-story writers, has died at age 77.

Though he published sparingly, his few works have become classics of CanLit. These include a single novel – 1999′s No Great Mischief (McClelland & Stewart), which won the lucrative IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, despite being shut out of contention for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Awards. The novel also won Ontario’s Trillium Book Award.

But it is his short stories that stand as MacLeod’s greatest literary achievement. He released only two collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986), but both are now considered classics of the genre. MacLeod’s stories are gathered together in the single volume Island, released by M&S in 2000, following the popular success of No Great Mischief.

Although he was born on the prairies – North Battleford, Saskatchewan, to be exact – and lived most of the year in Windsor, Ontario, MacLeod will be forever associated with Cape Breton, the setting for most of his fiction.

The second edition of The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature has this to say of MacLeod’s writing:

His deep identification with the geography and culture of Cape Breton – its Gaelic heritage, the working life of the farm, mine, bush, and sea – lies at the centre of his stories, which draw on the oral tradition of storytelling. MacLeod’s narrators are also haunted by their pasts, immediate and ancestral, and they elegiacally reflect on their pasts in what appears to be the immediate present, in a kind of eternal “nowness” in which their pasts bleed persistently into their present.

According to Scott Edmonds of Canadian Press, in an article reprinted on CTV’s website, MacLeod had remained in hospital since suffering a stroke in January. Edmonds quotes Douglas Gibson, MacLeod’s editor at M&S, as saying that it was “a hard stroke.” Gibson is also quoted as saying that MacLeod was “that rare combination of a great writer and a great man.”

MacLeod’s most recent publication, “Remembrance,” originally commissioned by the Vancouver International Writers Festival and released as a digital single by M&S last November, was his first published story in more than 10 years.