Gallant in Montreal in 1981 (Photo: CP)
Mavis Gallant, the internationally celebrated Canadian writer, has died at the age of 91, according to her publisher.
Gallant was born Mavis Leslie Young in Montreal in 1922, and worked for a time for the National Film Board of Canada before moving to the Montreal Standard where she worked as a reporter. She began writing poetry and short stories as a child, and in 1950, moved to Europe to devote herself to writing full-time. More than 100 of her stories were published in The New Yorker , which, in 2012, also excerpted parts of the diaries Gallant had written during here time in Spain and France.
Margaret Atwood, who has long been a high-profile admirer of Gallant's writing, tweeted this following the news of her death:
Very sad to hear that #MavisGallant has died... wonderful, scrappy person, wonderful writer, fascinating life.— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) February 18, 2014
In a podcast last year, Atwood recalled first discovering Gallant: "In my early years as a writer I stumbled across her... and I wondered, 'Who is this person?... And how can I read more of these stories?'" Atwood also talked about meeting Gallant in person after having admired her writing: "She was very sharp. Very tough. Very independent. And very funny."
Although she returned to Canada as a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in 1983, Gallant lived most of her life in Paris. Her work often tells stories of expats living in Europe, and deals with questions of identity and alienation. In 1965, she spoke with the CBC program Telescope about living in the French capital:
In 2001, Gallant became the inaugural winner of the Matt Cohen Award, which recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer. She was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1981 and in 1993 was made a Companion, the highest level of the order.
A few years ago, the CBC's Eleanor Wachtel wrote about the experience of interviewing Gallant over the years, and compared Gallant with Canada's other short story luminary, Alice Munro:
When I was looking over some articles about Mavis Gallant, I started to feel that there are two camps or perspectives on Canada's two master storytellers, Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, as if you needed to champion one over the other, like favoring the Rolling Stones over the Beatles, or Jean-Luc Godard over Francois Truffaut. I don't know why that should be, but the absurdity of it hit me as I reflected on what a lucky place we are to have produced and been the beneficiaries of such extraordinary talent.