Report on the Opening Performance of the 2012 Alice Munro Writers and Readers Festival by Daniel Kolos
An enthusiastic literary audience heard delightful stories about the Canadian publishing scene. Doug Gibson, editor and publisher just retired from McClelland & Stewart launched his memoirs, Stories About Storytellers.
Gibson’s presentation was the most erudite stand-up comedy of the best of Canadian Literati I have ever heard. His stories included Alistair MacLeod, the Nova Scotian author, Pierre Trudeau, Robertson Davies, and, of course, Alice Munro. It turns out, Gibson was the one who convinced Munro that she is a “sprinter” not a “marathon” runner (Alice was being advised to write novels instead of the short story). He went on to publish nine more volumes of her short stories.
The second half of the Festival opening evening was MC’d by Eric Coates, erstwhile Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival. He hosted Jennifer Zoethout, Branch Services Librarian with the Huron County Library, Gary Draper, professor of English Literature at the University of Waterloo and Marcia Johnson, a playwright who adapted a Munro story for the stage at the Blyth Festival. These three turned out to be a fount of information about Alice Munro. Zoethout came armed with information from the Library, Draper told anecdotes and Johnson recounted her first encounter with Alice Munro when the short story writer paid a visit to the Blyth Festival. When they met, Johnson told Munro how much she loved the first story in the new collection – Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – to which Munro replied, “you must write a play about it!. Here is the number, please call my agent (for permission). Munro was gone by the time Johnson was able to breathe again.
Gibson’s best story about Alice Munro came from a fund raising dinner Munro operated. When the dinner was over, a gentleman approached a server who was collecting dirty plates and asked her, “Which one is our famous celebrity? Is it that grand lady by the window?” … to which the server, Alice Munro herself, replied, “I wouldn’t know!”