David Gilmour responds to criticism over remarks about only teaching books by men

Award-winning author and University of Toronto instructor David Gilmour created a furor and sparked a storm of chatter on Twitter when he remarked in a recent interview that he's not interested in teaching books by female or Canadian authors. He subsequently spoke to CBC News about the controversy.

In an interview with Random House's online magazine Hazlitt, Gilmour said, "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf."

Gilmour went on to emphasize that his love of the books guides the curriculum. "I teach mostly Russian and American authors. Not much on the Canadian front. But I can only teach stuff I love. I can't teach stuff that I don't, and I haven't encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach."

He said if the students ask why there aren't any women writers on the syllabus, he tells them, "I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers, go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

Gilmour told CBC News that he was distracted during the magazine interview. "First of all, this was an offhand interview done in my office while I was also entertaining another interview in French at the same time. So this was very much a throwaway line."

He emphasized that by teaching only male authors, he's not suggesting that they are better than women authors -- only that they are the ones he feels most passionately about. "I wouldn't dream [of saying] for one second, and no one in his right mind would say that male authors are better than women authors or French authors or Chinese authors. That's not the question."

He went on to say that it's a matter of his personal taste. "I'm a middle-aged man, as you can probably see, and I'm a middle-aged writer, so my concerns are very much those of a middle-aged writer. So what I tend to do is I teach middle-aged writers' literature because I understand it profoundly. But most important is I can muster up a kind of passion for those authors that I can't for other authors who are equally good."

Gilmour also pointed out that he doesn't teach James Joyce, even though he's a great writer, because he's not passionate about his work, and that "I love Alice Munro. I think she's as good a writer as they come. But she writes about an arena of human experience, small town, rural Ontario, that frankly doesn't speak to me."

Glimour's latest novel, Extraordinary, is on the longlist for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize. When asked if he thought the controversy would negatively affect his chances of making the shortlist, Gilmour said no. "My book either stands on its own or fails on its own but it has nothing to do with my opinions about whether or not I like to teach middle-aged writers."

You can read the full transcript of David Gilmour's interview with Random House here.

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