Publisher Douglas Gibson tells all

Douglas Gibson’s book Stories about Storytellers offers the inside scoop on the writing lives of Canada’s great authors. - Submitted photo
Douglas Gibson’s book Stories about Storytellers offers the inside scoop on the writing lives of Canada’s great authors.
— image credit: Submitted photo

For every great book, there are great people behind it. The writer, of course — that goes without saying — but also the people who believe in the book, and want to see it out there inspiring readers. In Canada, the believer behind many of this country’s most celebrated and influential books is Douglas Gibson.

Gibson, whose own book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others offers an insider’s view of the who’s who of Canlit, takes the stage at the Nelson Civic Theatre on Saturday, July 12 at 2 p.m. as part of the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival.

Gibson’s own storied life began in earnest when he became editorial director of MacMillan Canada, rising to become publisher in 1979. During this time he wrote the painfully funny (and now quite famous) instructional guide for new authors What Happens After My Book is Published?

It’s possible that now-famous authors such as Mavis Gallant received this little guide after Gibson negotiated her first Canadian publishing deal. It was Gibson’s gentle, down-to-earth humour and his dedication that earned him the loyalty and admiration of Gallant and many of Canada’s most highly regarded authors.

Morley Callaghan, W.O. Mitchell, James Houston, and Peter Gzowski are among the authors Gibson published through his time at MacMillan and after he moved to McClelland and Stewart, where he eventually became publisher, then president, and where he managed his own imprint, Douglas Gibson Books.

Some of Canada’s most notable authors broke contract with MacMillan to follow Gibson — including Hugh MacLennan, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and recent Nobel Prize for Literature winner Alice Munro.

Said Munro, in her letter to MacMillan asking to be released from her contract: “He was absolutely the first person in Canadian publishing who made me feel there was no need to apologize for being a short story writer.” Munro writes the introduction to Gibson’s book, and is the 21st writer to come under Gibson’s pen as he describes the personalities that have influenced how Canada sees itself.

Some tales have taken on urban mythic proportions, such as the one in which Gibson ambushed Alistair MacLeod in a train station to wrestle the manuscript bodily from the famous author’s hands.

Did it really happen? The Canlit curious can find out about this and much more by attending Gibson’s entertaining presentation Stories About Storytellers. Tickets are available at www.emlfestival.com.

The website is a one-stop-shop for all of the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival events, which include an evening of presentations by mystery writer Gail Bowen and CBC host of Writers and Company Eleanor Wachtel on Saturday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets for this are available through the Capitol Theatre box office (all other tickets are available through the Festival website or at the door).

Mystery forms one of the themes for the weekend: a Saturday morning panel with Gail Bowen (author of 20 bestselling mysteries) and Nelson’s own Deryn Collier (Confined Space and Open Secret, published by Simon & Schuster) is set to unravel the mysteries of how whodunit writers do it. That one happens on Saturday morning, 9 to 10:30 at Hart Hall.

In addition, the festival showcase includes an Opening Social on Thursday evening with local and visiting writers and a gala reading Saturday night with authors Sid Marty, Angie Abdou, and Donna Morrissey.

Panels, presentations and workshops on indigenous publishing, self-publishing, and storytelling for youth round out the weekend.

This is the third year for Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, which has been gaining a reputation as one of Canada’s best small festivals of the written word.

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