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Writers’ champion Robert Weaver

The Story


For decades, literary editor and radio producer Robert Weaver gave a hand up to some of Canada's greatest writing talents by buying, broadcasting and publishing their work. The long-time head of CBC Radio arts programming, Weaver was called the "midwife of Canadian literature" and "the conscience of the CBC", we hear in this radio clip from Your Two Bucks Worth. Weaver called himself "the still centre" and a "literary middleman". He drifted into editing, he says in this 1970 interview, while working on student publications at the University of Toronto. Later he drifted again, this time to the CBC. Weaver quickly grasped the importance of his job to Canada "because there were so few magazines and so few publishing outlets," buying young writers' work, he said. Weaver's CBC Radio program Anthology championed authors including Alice Munro, Morley Callaghan, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence and Michael Ondaatje. Weaver's passion spilled into print with Tamarack Review, a leading literary quarterly he founded. He also edited numerous anthologies of poems and stories. One piece of his own writing, a memo to his bosses, was dubbed Weaver's Manifesto and passed around the CBC offices, he recalled. In the Manifesto, Weaver told senior management that his friends the writers were the "truly significant people" in Canada. They were the reason he put up with wasteful meetings, dirty offices and bad pay. "If we (the CBC) do turn our backs on them, it's not merely our loss -- though it is -- we just aren't going to survive," he thundered. To Weaver's consternation, the bosses he was assailing loved the memo.

Medium: Radio
Program: Your Two Bucks Worth
Broadcast Date: Jan. 2, 1970
Guest(s): Robert Weaver
Host: Warren Davis
Duration: 5:57

Did You know?


• Robert Weaver was born Jan. 6, 1921, in Niagara Falls, Ont. Before he arrived at the CBC in 1948, he worked briefly for a bank, spent two years in the Armed Forces and graduated from the University of Toronto.

• At the CBC, Weaver was appointed program organizer in the Talks and Public Affairs department. He created radio programs including CBC Stage and CBC Wednesday Night. The best known is Anthology, which aired readings of works by Canadian authors. It lasted 31 years, until Weaver's semi-retirement from the CBC in 1985. He personally signed off the last show, saying, "For me, at least, it was a good 30 years... Thank you for listening and a final goodbye."

• "Mordecai (Richler) discovered me," Weaver told the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper in April 2002. "He walked into the CBC studio in Montreal and there was a woman there whose area was current affairs and she got in touch with me and said: 'A young man named Mordecai Richler was in because he had an idea the CBC paid money for stories so I told him to contact you.'"

• Part of Weaver's legacy is the CBC Literary Awards. His brainchild, they were first handed out in 1979 in three categories -- poetry, short story and essay. Over the past quarter-century, the awards have recognized writers from across Canada, including Susan Musgrave, Carol Shields and Barry Callaghan. In 2003, two English-language and two French-language prizes in given in each of three categories -- poetry, fiction and travel writing.

• Margaret Atwood co-edited with Weaver the 1986 and 1992 editions of the Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories. She said of Weaver in 2002: "He used to travel across the country and have parties in his hotel room for local writers. He witnessed everybody's bad behaviour. At one time he knew all the gossip. He was just a regular guy, you know. He just fell into this."

• Weaver turned down promotions at CBC for fear he would lose direct contact with writers. He also declined the Order of Canada, the prestigious honour for Canadians who have made a recognizable difference to the country. "I was not interested. And I don't like the three-tier arrangement," of the award, Weaver told the Financial Post in 1999.

• The three ascending levels of honours are "Member of the Order of Canada", "Officer of the Order of Canada" and "Companion of the Order of Canada".

• When legendary American critic Edmund Wilson decided to survey the Canadian literary scene, he turned to Weaver for help. When Wilson's O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture appeared in 1965, the forward mistakenly thanked "Robert Weaver of CBS" rather than CBC.

• Weaver died in January 2008. He was known as a quiet, thoughtful man rarely out of reach of his pipe. Ross McLean, the late CBC producer, said of Weaver: "His service has been monumental but his presence has been phantom."

 


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