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80 years of Q&Q: getting personal with CanLit personalities

Findley2In 1956, Timothy Findley published his debut story in the Tamarack Review, motivated by some friendly generational griping from his friend, actress Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude).

During a 1981 interview with Canadian Literature, Findley recalled attending an exhibition of painters under the age of 30 with Gordon. “Ruth asked me, ‘Why are you people so damned negative about everything? All those pictures were black, depressing. Can’t you say yes to anything?’ Secretly I decided to prove that we’re not. I went back to my digs and I wrote a story. It was called ‘About Effie,’ about one of the maids who worked at our house when I was a kid. The next day Ruth said to me, ‘Oh, Tiffy, you really shouldn’t be acting at all, you should be writing.’ (Which is a lovely thing to be told when you want to be an actor.)”



(photo: Paul Orenstein)

Twenty-six-year-old Leonard Cohen published his 1961 poetry collection, The Spice-Box of Earth, with McClelland & Stewart, then promptly took off for his house on the Greek island of Hydra to hang out with a gal named Marianne.


Robertson Davies’ appointment as head of the University of Toronto’s new graduate college in 1963 gave Canadian literature not only the spritely collection of ghost stories High Spirits, but also The Rebel Angels, thought to have been inspired by his time at Massey.


George Elliott Clarke, winner of the 2001 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry for Execution Poems: The Black Acadian Tragedy of George and Rue (Gaspereau Press), coined the term “Africadian literature,” in reference to descendants of black United Empire Loyalists who arrived in the Maritimes during the 18th century.

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Alice Munro

More than 20 years after first submitting her work to The New Yorker, Alice Munro made her debut in the March 14, 1977, issue of the magazine with her story “Royal Beatings.” The future Nobel Prize laureate told The Paris Review in 1994 that the early rejection letters “weren’t terribly encouraging.”


80-40Unlike some writers, Crad Kilodney can get arrested

In the 1980s and ’90s, Crad Kilodney was a familiar feature on the streets of downtown Toronto, sullenly hawking his self-published chapbooks (with titles such as Putrid Scum and Lightning Struck My Dick). An early proponent of DIY publishing, Kilodney ran afoul of the Toronto police in 1991, when it was discovered he was hand-selling his publications on the street without a licence. In a Globe and Mail obituary following Kilodney’s death from cancer in 2014, Martin Levin wrote that the author’s arrest made history: Kilodney became “the first Canadian writer ever prosecuted for attempting to sell his own work.”



(photo: Bill Taylor)

A former newspaper humour columnist is an unlikely candidate to become an internationally honoured thriller writer, but that’s exactly what happened in 2008 when the novel No Time for Goodbye (Bantam) became a hit for the Toronto Star’s Linwood Barclay. The book, about a woman haunted by the disappearance of her family, was named the year’s best-selling novel in the U.K., and has been translated into more than 40 languages.