It has been a hard week for literary types. We have lost Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alistair Macleod. While I am sometimes drawn to the cult of relentless positivity, I am just as often repelled by it, and I find it kind of silly to try to spin death into something positive. There’s no denying that it is one of the crappiest aspects of being human. However, writers enjoy a special kind of immortality and are not silenced by death like the rest of us. Fame gives us immortality of a sort, but merely famous people exist only as images or icons, while writers, poets, artists, and musicians continue to speak to us long after they have passed. While death is a turd you just can’t polish, this brand of immortality is something to be admired.
I’ve just read Steven Galloway‘s beautiful tribute to Alistair MacLeod. It really moved me. I am somewhat susceptible to hero worship, and while I was touched by Galloway’s memories of MacLeod, I was also a little jealous. I have been privileged to meet a couple of authors whom I admire: Margaret Atwood, Linden MacIntyre, Lynn Coady, and Patrick deWitt. These were not all long meetings, just long enough to get a feel for the person behind the books that I admired (although, I did have a fairly extensive chat with Patrick, and he gave me some solid writerly advice). There are a couple of authors on my list of people I’d really like to meet someday: Kevin Barry, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Thomas King, Miriam Toews, and Michael Chabon are at the top of that list. I would include Jim Harrison on this list but I fear that in the not too distant future I will be reading about his passing. But even if I don’t get to meet any of them, I feel that we have had a conversation of sorts, and will continue to do so after they are no longer with us (hopefully a long time from now).
I didn’t get to meet Alistair MacLeod, but I did see him at the Halifax airport one day. I am a big fan, and he seemed like such an affable, approachable man, that I was torn over whether I should approach him and introduce myself. We were both waiting for flights with nothing much to do, and we would have had a fair bit to talk about, but ultimately I was too shy, and too hesitant to invade his privacy. Based on Galloway’s memories of the man, I now regret my decision to keep to myself. I am glad to learn that he was exactly as I imagined him to be, but I wish I could have found out for myself. Now all that I can do is keep reading his books and enjoy that conversation instead.