I first interviewed Mavis Gallant 15 years ago. She was full of stories and observations such that when I came to put together my first book of interviews, Writers & Company, I wanted to include her (alongside Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, among many others). She asked to see the edited transcript and proceeded to mark it up extensively - until about three-quarters of the way through, she stopped and wrote, "It's hopeless, I sound like Dan Quayle." For her, the spoken word was one thing; once it was written, it had to be perfect.
Mavis Gallant does have a daunting reputation. When TV journalist Stéphan Bureau came to interview her for his documentary film, he said: "I must confess at the outset that I was rather terrified of interviewing Mavis Gallant." And I do remember once, years ago, when I asked her about love - one of her characters had compared it to practising scales on the piano - she said, "Eleanor, are you asking me if I think that? I'm ashamed of you." This was in front a TV crew that flinched en masse and yet I knew even then that she would continue and elaborate on the question and the story (from Across the Bridge).
I still do not know what impels anyone sound of mind to leave dry land and spend a lifetime describing people who do not exist.
—Mavis Gallant, "In Which We Iterate Upon Ourselves"
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