Douglas Gibson: A Storyteller’s Storyteller


Douglas Gibson, former editor and publisher of McClelland and Stewart, visited Bishop’s University in November 2013 as a part of the Morris House Reading Series. He recently published Stories About Storytellers (ECW 2011), in which he shares his experiences in publishing. Since writing this book, he travels across Canada with his one-man show to tell stories about the great Canadian writers he has published.

Gibson’s storytelling began with a celebration of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize. As Munro’s editor, Gibson shared many personal stories, revealing Alice to be a feisty woman with a “mischievous sense of humour.” He claimed that Alice Munro was his “ticket to heaven”: “I kept Alice Munro writing short stories,” he said proudly. Although everyone else was telling her to get serious and write a novel, Gibson insisted that, “If you keep writing them, I’ll keep publishing them.” Since then, they have printed eleven collections of short stories together.

He also presented Alice as wonderfully stubborn. When she came to him to ask if her book could be printed on recycled paper, he flatly refused. He explained it was too expensive. Only collections of poetry and gift books were printed with recycled paper; not yet a bestseller. Alice was adamant and eventually won. This shocked the publishing world, and Douglas Gibson, to his shame, was thereafter awarded for being an environmentally friendly publisher.

Gibson continued with giving a brief outline of the other twenty writers he mentions in his book, and spoke of each one of them with pride and honour. “There’s no law in the world that says that artistic talent is restricted to wonderful characters”, yet he claimed to have worked with the best in both regards.

He spoke of Barry Broadfoot, who gave the ordinary man a voice. Robertson Davies had dreamed of being the ‘great American playwright’, but rediscovered himself to be a fine novelist. He told how Pierre Trudeau almost killed him, crossing into traffic that nearly crushed them both. He also described Val Ross as being “the bravest woman I have ever known.”

Douglas Gibson has been one of the most influential publishers Canada has ever seen. Alistair MacLeod said that “No one has done more for Canadian Literature than this man, Douglas Gibson.” It was a delight to have Gibson visit Bishops’ University, who introduced himself as “An Old North Hatley Guy” and shared personal moments of history being made through the lives of Canadian writers.