Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Subjects of Biography

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Brian Busby’s A Gentleman of Pleasure: One Life of John Glassco, Poet, Memoirist, Translator, and Pornographer, was published in March. It’s probably the best literary biography ever to appear in Canada. It’s been reviewed by Philip Marchand in the National Post, but at this writing no review has appeared in the Star or the Globe and Mail.

Is it Toronto’s endemic puritanism that makes book editors steer clear of Glassco, a sometime pornographer? Or, because Glassco was a Montrealer, is it Toronto’s endemic parochialism? But maybe I shouldn’t pick on Toronto — though that’s always a pleasure. Outside Montreal, Busby’s book has received scant attention. Which is a pity. Glassco was a unique figure, but there was something quintessentially Canadian about him too.

The welcome appearance of A Gentleman of Pleasure makes me ask when we can expect equally full, fair-minded, and unbowdlerized biographies of Al Purdy, Leonard Cohen, and Margaret Atwood.

Biography has been on my mind lately because one by me, Lost Passport: The Life and Words of Edward Lacey, will be published this fall by BookLand Press. Lacey occupies a small corner in literary history in having been the first explicitly gay Canadian poet. But during his lifetime he was one of those people who was only famous to his friends. Is he worth a biography? I take comfort from something Virginia Woolf wrote in “The Art of Biography,” from her Death of the Moth, and Other Essays</em>:

“Biography will enlarge its scope by hanging up looking glasses at odd corners. And yet from all this diversity it will bring out, not a riot of confusion, but a richer unity. And again, since so much is known that used to be unknown, the question now inevitably asks itself, whether the lives of great men only should be recorded. Is not anyone who has lived a life, and left a record of that life, worthy of biography — the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious? And what is greatness? And what smallness? We must revise our standards of merit and set up new heroes for our admiration.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Fraser Sutherland

At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Go to Fraser Sutherland’s Author Page