|Mavis Leslie Gallant|
|Born||Mavis Leslie Young
August 11, 1922
|Notable award(s)||Order of Canada|
An only child, Gallant was born in Montreal, Quebec. Her father died when she was young, and her mother remarried. Gallant received her education at seventeen different public, convent, and French-language boarding schools.
In her twenties, she worked as a reporter for the Montreal Standard (1944–1950). She married John Gallant, a Winnipeg musician, in 1942. The couple divorced five years later in 1947. Gallant left journalism in 1950 to pursue fiction writing.
Gallant has been candid about her need for autonomy and privacy. In an interview with Geoff Hancock in Canadian Fiction magazine in 1978, she discussed her “life project” and her deliberate move to France to write by saying, “I have arranged matters so that I would be free to write. It's what I like doing.” In the preface to her collection of stories, Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981), she uses the words of Boris Pasternak as her epigraph: “Only personal independence matters.”
In 1981, Gallant was honoured by her native country and made an Officer of the Order of Canada for her contribution to literature; that year, she received the Governor General's Award for literature for her collection of stories, Home Truths. In 1983-84, she returned to Canada to be the writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. Queen’s University awarded her an honorary LL.D. in 1991. She was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1993.
In 1989, Gallant was made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2000, she won the Matt Cohen Prize, and in 2002 she received the Rea Award for the Short Story. The O. Henry Prize Stories of 2003 was dedicated to her. In 2004, Gallant was awarded a Lannan Literary Fellowship as well as a PEN/Nabokov Award.
With Alice Munro, Gallant is one of a few Canadian authors whose works regularly appear in The New Yorker. Many of Gallant’s stories have debuted in the magazine before subsequently being published in a collection.
Grazia Merler observes in her book, Mavis Gallant: Narrative Patterns and Devices, that “Psychological character development is not the heart of Mavis Gallant’s stories, nor is plot. Specific situation development and reconstruction of the state of mind or of heart is, however, the main objective.” Frequently, Gallant’s stories focus on expatriate men and women who have come to feel lost or isolated; marriages that have grown flimsy or shabby; lives that have faltered and now hover in the shadowy area between illusion, self-delusion, and reality. Because of her heritage and understanding of Acadian history, she is often compared to Antonine Maillet, considered to be a spokesperson for Acadian culture in Canada.
In her critical book Reading Mavis Gallant, Janice Kulyk Keefer says, “Gallant is a writer who dazzles us with her command of the language, her innovative use of narrative forms, the acuity of her intelligence, and the incisiveness of her wit. Yet she also disconcerts us with her insistence on the constrictions and limitations that dominate human experience.”
In a review of her work in Books in Canada in 1978, Geoff Hancock asserts that “Mavis Gallant's fiction is among the finest ever written by a Canadian. But, like buried treasure, both the author and her writing are to discover.” In the Canadian Reader, Robert Fulford has said, “One begins comparing her best moments to those of major figures in literary history. Names like Henry James, Chekhov, and George Eliot dance across the mind.”
Gallant has written two novels, Green Water, Green Sky (1959) and A Fairly Good Time (1970); a play, What is to be Done? (1984); numerous celebrated collections of stories, The Other Paris (1953), My Heart is Broken (1964), The Pegnitz Junction (1973), The End of the World and Other Stories (1974), Across the Bridge (1976), From the Fifteenth District (1978), Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981), Overhead in a Balloon: Stories of Paris (1985), and In Transit (1988); and a non-fiction work, Paris Journals: Selected Essays and Reviews (1986).
Gallant went to Europe when she was 28, determined to achieve personal and financial independence as a writer. Living in Europe and settling in Paris did not mean giving up her Canadian citizenship: something she has said she could not do any more than she could change the colour of her eyes. Gallant is as informed about life in Canada as she is about life in France. Over the years she has maintained a voluminous correspondence with friends, acquaintances, scholars, especially young scholars, and young writers who consistently ask for advice. Gallant is no stranger to Canada, returning at every opportunity to lecture, give readings, interviews, receive honorary degrees and visit friends. Gallant is thrilled that her journals from 1952-1970, edited by Steven Barclay, will be published by Knopf in the United States and M&S in Canada in September 2014. With the assistance of Dr. Mary K. MacLeod, an historian at Cape Breton University, N.S., Mavis' 50 year study of the Dreyfus affair is now being edited for future publication. Gallant considers the Dreyfus study to be "her life's work".
Gallant spends her free time visiting museums and art galleries, studying the work of renown and new artists. Few things give her more pleasure than walking through every nook and cranny in Paris discovering new attractions and observing people. A critical observer of people, many of her short stories have their root in her observation of people chatting in the cafes of Paris. No one loves the cafes of Paris more than Gallant. Her archive in her Paris home is filled with jotted notes written on every imaginable type of paper, from torn scribbler pages to the occasional table mat. Gallant is a habitual theatre and opera aficionado. She has probably seen every film, in every language, shown in Paris since her arrival. But her greatest love is following the horses! No horse race escapes her attention, and whenever she can, she is there placing a bet. Win or lose it has always been the thrill of the race. She assiduously reads daily newspapers in German, Italian, French, and English, and had only occasionally granted interviews until 2006, when she participated in two television documentaries: one in English for Bravo! television, Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant, and one in French, as part of the series CONTACT, s de la création, hosted by Canadian broadcaster Stéphan Bureau. Gallant was honored at Symphony Space in New York City on November 1, 2006, in an event for Selected Shorts—fellow authors Russell Banks, Jhumpa Lahiri and Michael Ondaatje honoured her and read excerpts from her work, and Gallant herself made a rare personal appearance, reading one of her short stories in its entirety.
On November 8, 2006, Mavis Gallant received the Prix Athanase-David from the government of her native province of Quebec. She is the first author writing in English to receive this award in its 38 years of existence.
- The Other Paris (1956)
- Green Water, Green Sky (1959)
- My Heart is Broken (1964)
- A Fairly Good Time (1970)
- The Pegnitz Junction (1973)
- The End of the World and Other Stories (1974)
- From the Fifteenth District (1979)
- Home Truths (1981)
- What Is to Be Done? (1983)
- Overhead in a Balloon (1985)
- Paris Notebooks (1986)
- In Transit (1988)
- Across the Bridge and Other Stories (1993)
- The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant (1996)
- Paris Stories (2002)
- Montreal Stories (2004)
- Going Ashore. Douglas Gibson Books. April 2009. ISBN 978-0-7710-3538-8.
- Mavis Gallant at The Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Lisa Allardice (Saturday 21 November 2009). "A life in books: Mavis Gallant 'I felt that the only thing I was on earth to do was to write'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 11, 2011.