Douglas GibsonPrepare to meet Alice Munro, Pierre Trudeau, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Mavis Gallant, Hugh MacLennan, Peter C. Newman, Brian Mulroney, Morley Callaghan, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Martin, James Houston, Peter Gzowski, W.O. Mitchell, and many more. MacEwan’s School of Communications invites you to hear Douglas Gibson, the 2012 Corus Entertainment Lecturer. This free public event is scheduled for March 2, 2012 in the Haar Theatre at the Centre for Arts and Communications at MacEwan University. The address is 10045 156 Street. There will be a reception at 5:00 p.m. with the lecture at 6:00 p.m. and dessert and networking to follow. Admission is free. There is no need to RSVP.

In this one-man show, Doug Gibson will tell stories about the authors he got to know well in the course of his career as an editor and publisher at McClelland & Stewart. Each of the 21 authors he discusses will appear on a central screen behind him, in a lively caricature. Bursts of music also enliven the 65-minute show. Almost 20 versions of the show have been given across the country in the fall of 2011. David Cheoros, the Director of Edmonton LitFest, calls Gibson “a living link to the foundation of our country’s literature and also an impish and charming performer. His lifelong passion for these writers is contagious.”

The evening has been described as “unique”, and “hilarious”, and “full of great stories”. It could only come from someone who has had a long and fascinating career working behind the scenes with some of the most memorable men and women of our era, for example during his time as the publisher of McClelland & Stewart from 1988 to 2004.

Nancy Schiefer, a reporter for the Calgary Sun, wrote this about the Gibson’s presentation:

Stories About Storytellers is the perfect title for Douglas Gibson’s engaging account of his career in publishing. The book is witty and informative, its stable of authors chosen to intrigue the reader.

Gibson, a legend in the world of Canadian publishing, worked as an editor at Doubleday, Macmillan and MacClelland & Stewart and was the first Canadian editor to be given his own imprint, Douglas Gibson Books, when he joined M&S in l986. He became publisher of the renowned company in 1988 and its president in 2000. His glance-back at the industry, at the writers he knew well and at others who crossed his path, is a bonanza for book lovers.

Now 68, Gibson was born in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1943. After graduating from St. Andrews University with a Masters degree in English literature, Gibson took a second MA at Harvard before emigrating to Canada in 1967. He worked for a time at McMaster University before a well-timed plunge into publishing. His career has been long and varied and his account of literary adventures ranks with the best.

In her introduction to the book, Alice Munro notes that Gibson’s chronicle affords readers glimpses of “the everyday, unique persona” behind the facade of fame which often defines a celebrated writer.

“He tells us something about what they’re like, catching them in dire, or proud, or funny moments, when they are preparing for, enduring, enjoying or living down whatever limelight falls on them. He’s the man who helped them to get there.”

Gibson’s book offers 21 sketches of writers (including three politicians) of whom only three are women. But that wasn’t Gibson’s fault, Munro points out.

“He was as determined to spot, harass, encourage and publish a female writer as anyone could possibly be. There just weren’t many of us around.”

Perhaps the most polished portrait is that of former Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie, a man he describes as “a charming dissembler.” Ritchie thrived in his career in what was then called External Affairs. He was the country’s ambassador to Washington during the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, served in the same capacity in Bonn, Germany, and was a diplomat in London during the Second World War.

Ritchie’s pithy and indiscreet diaries made his name, Gibson writes, as he assumed the role of “a gossip, a boulevardier, a ladies’ man, and a gifted writer with a novelist’s eye and ear, and an insatiable appetite for life.” His diaries of London during the Blitz, which include an account of his love affair with novelist Elizabeth Bowen, won the 1974 Governor-General’s Award for Non-Fiction.

Gibson has a singular way with words. He describes Ritchie as a man who grew up concerned about being “angular, beak-nosed and narrow-chested”, noting his “fussy little grey mustache and horn-rimmed glasses” and writes that Ritchie looked to him like a mid-level bureaucrat or small town bank manager. But women, Gibson adds, “swarmed around him.”

Not just proud of the writers he has edited, Gibson seems fond of them without being cloying. Alice Munro credits him with giving her enough confidence to continue writing. She had been pressured to abandon the short story for the more “grown-up” novel form, and had decided to shelve her ambitions. Gibson’s insistence that she stay with the short story was a turning point in what became an internationally celebrated career. Munro’s superb talent and “shy vivacity” would, Gibson knew, carry the day.

Snippets about storytellers abound in Gibson’s book. He tells of sessions with the prickly Mavis Gallant; of the “well-stocked, allusive mind” of the Dalhousie-Oxford-Princeton educated novelist (Two Solitudes, Voices in Time) Hugh MacLennan; of the larger-than-life personality of prairie novelist W.O. Mitchell; and of the unusual character of Peter C. Newman whose writing career, Gibson notes, was marked by a fascination with power, with political and material manoeuvring at the highest levels.

Gibson worked with federal politicians while their memoirs were works-in-progress. He found Paul Martin “a decent man”, but one burdened with too many “priorities.” He is respectful of Pierre Trudeau, but eschews the role of sycophant.

Gibson’s delightful, behind-the- scenes look at some of Canada’s most prominent writers is a remarkable, four-decade romp through the back rooms of publishing.

At the end of the show, there will be a question and answer session, followed by an autographing session, as Doug Gibson signs his new book, which by a strange coincidence is named STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS. More details about the show and the book are available on the website www.douglasgibsonbooks.com.

For further details about this event, visit the MacEwan event URL or contact Sherrell Steele, manager of the School of Communications at steeles2@macewan.ca.

Sherrell Steele, MA, ABC*
Manager
School of Communications
Grant MacEwanUniversity
Centre for the Arts and Communications
Room 441B. 10045 – 156 Street
Edmonton, AB T5P 2P7
Tel: 780.633.3543
Fax: 780.497.4307
Cell: 780. 298.6149