David Gilmour says when students leave his class on the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, he hopes they will “run down the street and buy Chekhov.”
But when students want to read female authors, he hopes they will take another course.
Gilmour, a literature instructor at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, told Random House this week he does not want women writers on his syllabus.
“I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” he says, making an exception for one female writer.
"Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories," he says. "But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love."
Instead, Gilmour says, “[w]hat I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."
Gilmour, who is also an award winning author and former CBC television host, was the recipient of the Governor General's Literary Award in 2008 for his novel A Perfect Night to Go to China. His recent novel Extraordinary is on the Giller long list.
Despite his bona fides in literature, though, he says he is not equipped to teach writing by women. Or at least not well enough.
“I teach passionately,” he says, defending his position. “One way I’m an effective teacher is when I teach what I’m passionate about. I’m not passionate about books by Chinese authors, or by female authors.”
The revelation caused minor shock waves on social media. Gilmour has heard some of the complaints, admitting "for some reason this seems to have struck a nerve."
He told CBC News on Wednesday night that he was "really, deeply surprised" at the response to what he called "an offhand interview done in my office."
"I choose all material for my courses according to people whose lives I feel are vaguely close to mine, but whose work I really adore," he said. "There are a lot of other people who are equally good writers. I don't teach them not because they're not equally good, but because I don't emotionally connect with them as I do with other writers."
'Middle-aged men writers'
Universities and the literary canon have historically skewed toward a male perspective. But that’s a tradition Gilmour says he’s not following.
"I teach middle-aged men writers not because they are better or because women are not as good," he says in the interview with Random House. "I only teach what I adore and can communicate. I’m simply not passionately enough engaged in female writers. That’s all."
Gilmour says he is one professor among hundreds, and that if you want Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood, go down the hall where "there are people who teach women writers much, much better than I can."
He admits that every year, arms go up in his class to ask where the women writers are. But overall, he tells CBC News his class approves of the curriculum.
"I’d say 90 per cent of the class are women. They choose the course based on that curriculum," he says. "That’s middle-aged male writers taught by a middle-aged man."
A written statement from Victoria College said that neither the college nor the University of Toronto endorses Gilmour's views.
"Mr. Gilmour, a noted Canadian author and journalist, teaches elective seminars on his area of expertise, leaving other areas of literature to be taught by colleagues who can do so most effectively based on their areas of specialization," the statement reads.