10 amazing facts about Mavis Gallant

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Mavis Gallant, a Canadian literary icon, passed away at the age of 91. Accomplished writers tend to have led fascinating lives, and Mavis Gallant is no exception. Born in 1922 in Montreal, her intelligence, wit, and writing talent took her on a lifetime journey of travel, art, and storytelling. 

Here are 10 amazing facts about this Canadian literary legend you may not have known:

1. She attended 17 different schools when she was growing up

Gallant, an only child, did not have a particularly settled childhood. Her father died when she was 10 and her mother remarried shortly after. The family moved often, and Gallant found herself studying at several different public, convent, and boarding schools, eventually graduating high school in New York City.

2. She never went to college or university

She may have had a diverse academic career as a youth, but Gallant didn't pursue post-secondary education. "I never went to any university; I just started living my life."

3. She knew her life path at an early age


At the age of 15, Gallant told a friend she had decided two important things -- that she would one day live in Paris, and that she would one day be published in the New Yorker. Gallant achieved both. She moved to Paris in the 1960s and became one of the few Canadian writers to be regularly published in the New Yorker, with her work first appearing in the magazine in 1951.

4. She once interviewed Jean-Paul Sartre

When she was still a young reporter working in Montreal in the 1940s, Gallant had a chance to speak to the iconic French philosopher. It was during this interview that Gallant apparently received some great advice about writing: "You are in every character you write," Sartre reportedly told her.

5. She became Mavis Gallant after briefly marrying in her 20s

She was Mavis Leslie Young before she met Winnipeg musician John Gallant. They got married in 1942, but divorced five years later. She kept his last name.

6. She thinks teaching short story writing is pointless

"I never asked for help. I didn't even show my friends what I was doing," she once told a reporter. In fact, she only had two words of wisdom of aspiring short story writers: read Chekhov. "Anybody who has the English language and doesn't read the wonderful translations of Chekhov is an idiot."

7. She's ground-breaking

In 2006, Gallant became the first English-language writer to receive the prestigious Prix Athanese-David lifetime achievement literary award, presented by the Quebec government. Previous recipients include Félix-Antoine Savard, Michel Tremblay, and Jacques Poulin.

8. She was a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto ...

... But she hated the gig, calling it a "completely useless job. You are with people who have no talent whatever, and if they had they wouldn't come to me." However, the one advantage was getting a 20 per cent off discount at the campus book store. And to promising students, she would give away copies of Em Forster or Vladmir Nabokov, which she said were "good for the soul."

9. She taught English in Spain

Although Gallant is primarily associated with Paris, where she made her home for more than 50 years, she spent a good part of her early career travelling around Europe. This included a period in Spain, where she lived a hand-to-mouth existence, giving English lessons while waiting for cheques to arrive for her New Yorker stories. You can read more about this period of Gallant's life in these diary excerpts published by the New Yorker.

10. She was a prolific New Yorker contributor

Gallant's first story in the New Yorker, "Madeline's Birthday," was published on Sept. 1, 1951. She contributed more than 100 stories to the magazine over the next five decades





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