Culture & Entertainment

The legacy of Alistair MacLeod

By: Guest Blogger
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

The legacy of Alistair MacLeod

By: Guest Blogger
MacLeod, Alistair(colour)_cr. Ted Rhodes Sad news this morning: Canadian short story writer (and one-time novelist) Alistair MacLeod has died. According to his former publisher at McClelland & Stewart, Doug Gibson, he’d had a “hard stroke” last January and had been struggling to recover ever since. He passed away yesterday at a hospital in his hometown of Windsor, ON, at the age of 77. Though born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, MacLeod spent his formative years living on a farm in Cape Breton, where his family was from, and all of his stories are set in Nova Scotia. His sole novel, the 2001 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winning No Great Mischief, is his masterpiece, bringing together all of the preoccupations of his short stories into one epic, generations-spanning saga. I can’t help but be personally partial to it, as it documents the history of my forebears: the branch of the MacDonald clan that came over from Scotland to Cape Breton. I was fortunate enough to share a table with MacLeod and his family once, at the Scotiabank Giller Awards in 2010. His son, Alex MacLeod, was a nominee that night for his own first story collection, Light Lifting, and you could feel the family pride radiating out in all directions. Before the evening was over, the senior MacLeod was more than a wee bit pickled—he was infamous, like so many other Islanders of his generation, for his love of free-flowing hooch—but he looked so contented and rosy sitting beside his wife and son that I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. By all accounts, he was the gentlest and kindliest of patriarchs. But what impressed me most about MacLeod is the attitude he took to his career and to the craft of writing. Unlike most authors, he didn’t publish for the sake of publishing—didn’t write just to have a career. Over his lifetime, he published just two short story collections— The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986)—and the aforementioned No Great Mischief. His attitude—which he subsequently passed on to his son—was that you publish when you have something truly worth publishing. Accordingly, all of his works are gems—there isn’t a bum story in either collection, and No Great Mischief is one of the finest novels this country has ever produced. Because of his philosophy, MacLeod maybe isn’t as widely known as he should be. On the other hand, he leaves behind an unblemished, diamond-hard body of work. If you ask me, more young writers should be learning from his example. (Photo courtesy of Ted Rhodes)
Share X
Culture & Entertainment

The legacy of Alistair MacLeod

Login