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  • Ontario Creates
  • Ontario Arts Council
  • Canada Council for the Arts

Working with Mavis Gallant

From Brick 93

Brick 93

Brick published an interview with Mavis Gallant in issue 80 (Winter 2007/8) that was as endlessly layered as any of her stories. It was conducted in French by Contact presenter Stéphan Bureau and translated by Wyley Powell, and we weren’t sure what direction, precisely, to take it—there was so much good material, so many stories, and they fanned out across pages and pages of dialogue that could have filled the entire magazine.

In the interview, Gallant compares the way she sees the beginning of one of her stories “to a play when the curtain rises and you see the stage. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you know somebody is going to come on stage. If it’s a light comedy, somebody will walk on and answer a white telephone. But that’s only the beginning, and you know nothing yet about these characters.”

Well, we have a white telephone at the Brick office, and one day in July 2007 it rang, and so began a light comedy—comic mostly because we, the newly arrived managing editor and assistant editor, were so green, while our production manager, who did her best to guide us, was given to fits of glee. Mavis Gallant was the caller, and she had some things to say about the interview, which we had sent to her for approval.

And so began, also, a treasured exchange. To shape the interview, we took the steer from Mavis herself. She sent in photographs with personal anecdotes written on the reverse and edited the pages of the interview in a firm, flawless script. When we had questions, Nadia called her on the phone, and sometimes Mavis called us with stern queries and corrections. One day Nadia announced she was going to New York City and told Mavis that she would be leaving the interview in the care of Tara Quinn.

“Tara Quinn, Tara Quinn,” mused Mavis. “I see a girl leading a horse out of a barn that’s caught fire.”

There could be no more auspicious a start to life at Brick than to be shown by Mavis Gallant how to edit an interview. The experience informed how we edited all interviews in issues to come. The voice had to come through with a force equal to that of Mavis on that first phone call. We’d all do well to keep listening.

Nadia Szilvassy is the publisher and managing editor of Brick.

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