February 19, 2014

RIP: Mavis Gallant, legendary short story author


Mavis Gallant, the famous short story writer best known for her collections The Other Paris,Mavis Gallant From the Fifteenth Distrtict, and Paris Stories, died yesterday, as this Guardian story reports. She was 91.

Gallant was born August 11, 1922 in Montreal, Quebec and lived there until age ten, when she moved to the United States with her mother and step-father. She returned to Montreal at eighteen, first working for the Canadian Film Board and later as a reporter for the Montreal Standard, and began writing and publishing fiction. In 1951, she had her first story published in the New Yorker, Madeliene’s Birthday. She then travelled through Europe, staying in London and Spain before settling in Paris to write full-time, believing, as the Guardian story quotes her saying, “… that if I was to call myself a writer, I should live on writing. If I could not live on it, even simply, I should destroy every scrap, every trace, every notebook and live some other way.”

While in Paris, Gallant’s agent continued to submit her work to the New Yorker without her knowledge. According to the Guardian, “the agent had pocketed the cash while informing the magazine that she was a recluse and telling her she had been rejected.” Gallant re-established contact with the editor of the New Yorker and continued to submit short stories to the magazine, seeing a total of one hundred and fourteen stories published in her lifetime. Her first collection, The Other Paris, was published in 1956.

In addition to her critically-acclaimed short stories, Gallant also wrote two novels, Green Water, Green Sky in 1959 and A Fairly Good Time in 1970, as well as a play, 1984’s What Is to be Done?

In 1981, Gallant was made an officer of the Order of Canada. Over the next twenty years, she received many more awards and honors; she served as a writer-in-residence for the University of Toronto from 1983 to 1984 and was named Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1989. Her work has been praised by notables such as John Updike, who commented on “how easily [Gallant] assumes the dry, wry, faintly harried voice of a woman-baffled male.” In 2006, she received the Prix Athanase-David from the government of Quebec, becoming the only English language author to win the award.