The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Continuing Story of Robert Weaver: Godfather of Canadian Literature

By Anne Chudobiak

These days, without meaning to, I’ve been learning a lot about journalistic practice, by following the media response to the death of Robert Weaver, influential Canadian editor and anthologist. I’d just read and reviewed his biography, by Elaine Kalman Naves, and was surprised, one Monday evening late in January, to see this unassuming subject quickly become national news, with stories from all of the major outlets posted at least online before the night was through.

These early stories appeared to have been written quickly. It was clear that some of the journalists hadn’t read the biography, but the reviews, and had based their obituaries on those. Everything in these articles was cribbed from somewhere else. I recognized my own contributions!

By the next day, the quality of the media response had improved, with the most detailed information coming from the CBC, which must have had a thick file on hand documenting the life of one of its most important former employees. There was also moving commentary, in the National Post and the Globe, from people like Robert Fulford and Alice Munro, who’d known Weaver well.

I thought that that would be the end of the coverage, but that Friday morning, on my local CBC morning show, the books columnist profiled the Kalman Naves book. I listened with surprise as she summarized the argument I’d made in my review. (I’d related recent complaints by novelist Stephen Marche on our ageing CanLit canon to Weaver’s efforts on behalf of an earlier generation of authors.) I was both flattered and worried. The columnist probably had no idea where that argument had come from. Maybe it had never really been my own. Do we always know when we’re cribbing?

Later that same day, I came across a photo online of Weaver’s Toronto tribute. Michael Ondaatje was in the forefront of a crowded reception room. Everyone around him had hair as white as his, so much so that the photo had a soft glow about it. Underneath, someone had posted an anonymous comment: “Somewhere, Stephen Marche is staring at this photo, rubbing his hands together and muttering “See? See?!?! What did I tell you?” I felt as though this unlikely joke had been written just for me. It played on everything I’d been thinking about for the past several weeks. It was so bizarre, to have this seemingly obscure focus of my inner life reflected in the media.

The story continues still. The Weaver biography was reviewed in this Saturday’s Globe and Mail, in a very strange piece, by a writer who'd himself pitched a somewhat similar project to Weaver, with no success. Talk about full disclosure!

And tonight at 9, CBC will air the first half of the two-part radio documentary, The Godfather of CanLit, that Kalman Naves prepared, in conjunction with her book, for the show Ideas. I will definitely tune in. I wouldn't want to miss any of it.

The book, Robert Weaver: Godfather of Canadian Literature
My review
Early news of the death
The CBC obituary
Fulford remembers
A behind-the-paywall Globe article about Weaver and Munro
Stephen Marche's comments on the ageing CanLit canon
Ondaatje and friends at Weaver tribute
Last Saturday's Globe review

And, if you can handle one more (unrelated) link: My review of Julie Doucet's diary, 365 Days, which I hope will win the author a Governor General's Literary Award for both French-language non-fiction and French-to-English translation. How do I go about influencing the juries? (Edited to add: Just realized it's too late for the French version. Must focus on the English.)


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This is great, Anne, so meaty and interesting. I love your description of that photo with its soft glow. I checked it out and you're absolutely right. I think I caught a glimpse of a young person way in the back. How gratifying to see your argument presented but frustrating not to get credit for it.

Wed Feb 13, 03:10:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

But based on the comment under the photo, that argument was never solely mine.

I didn't feel frustrated so much as happy to be part of the conversation.

And thank you for reading. I've been worrying that I scared everyone off. I still am!

p.s. Did you catch the documentary? Alice Munro spoke at length. She tells funny stories about how people used to party. And you get to hear Leonard Cohen put poetry to music on air for the first time. The second part's on tonight. Here I am going on again...

Wed Feb 13, 07:11:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Oh, and I should say that in the documentary, they have "actors" read out letters written by famous writers, but instead of using real actors, they use readily identifiable personalities, like Jonathan Goldstein as Leonard Cohen and Noah Richler as his father.

Wed Feb 13, 07:24:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

Some of my proudest moments as a journalist for a fairly marginal media outlet in Guatemala was when I managed to break or draw attention to a story that had been overlooked by the major media and then watch as they expanded on it and developed it further (something we did not usually have the resources to do), even though they rarely gave credit to the original source. And just as our news stories sometimes fed theirs, we would mine the five dailies for new angles or gaps in their reporting. This kind of "conversation" and knowing you had an influence on it is indeed exciting.

Wed Feb 13, 08:07:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Yes! You express it well, Ruth. I'm also excited to see how I can mine other people's stories.

Wed Feb 13, 09:19:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

No, I didn't see the documentary, Anne. I hardly ever watch TV, it seems, so I don't think to make a note of even programs I would like.

Wed Feb 13, 12:14:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

How fun, getting yourself all weavered into the conversation like that. You have arrived!

Thu Feb 14, 03:30:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger ad said...

Just another reminder that no matter how marginal we sometimes feels, pounding away at the keyboard in the quiet of our writing rooms, our words are making contact with something - someone - on the other side.

Way to contact....

Sat Feb 16, 03:19:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Hello there, Adriana! Last night I met up with your friend, Matthew A. (and his grown-up son!). He's still my favourite clergyman.

Sat Feb 16, 10:28:00 am GMT-5  

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