Mavis Gallant, Canadian-born writer of short stories, dies in Paris at age 91

February 19

Mavis Gallant, a Montreal-born writer who carved out an international reputation as a master short story author while living in Paris for decades, died Feb. 18 at her apartment in Paris. She was 91.

Random House in Canada confirmed the death. The cause was not disclosed.

The bilingual Ms. Gallant started out as a journalist and went on to publish more than 100 short stories in her lauded career, many of them in the New Yorker magazine and in collections such as “The Other Paris,” “Across the Bridge” and “In Transit.”

Author Joyce Carol Oates compared Ms. Gallant to another Canadian short story master, Alice Munro, who was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in literature.

“Perhaps the Nobel Prize should have been shared at no loss to two great Canadian writers,” Oates wrote on Twitter.


Mavis Gallant, shown here in Montreal in 1981, was a prodigious writer of short stories. (Ian Barrett/The Canadian Press via Associated Press)

Ms. Gallant’s following in the United States remained small. Many of her books remain out of print, short stories tend not to be best sellers, and, as a Canadian living in Paris, she often wrote about foreign cultures.

Mavis Leslie Young was born Aug. 11, 1922, in Montreal and was an only child in an English-speaking Protestant family. Her father died when she was young, and her mother remarried. Starting from age 4, Ms. Gallant was dispatched to a series of boarding schools in Canada and the United States.

She returned to Montreal and landed an entry-level stint at the National Film Board and then a job as a reporter for the Montreal Standard. She married Canadian musician John Gallant in 1942, but they divorced five years later.

In 1950, when she was 28, she kept a promise she had made to herself to quit journalism by age 30. She began traveling Europe, subsisting on her fees from the New Yorker and by giving English lessons.

“I live on bread, wine, and mortadella,” she wrote in her diary while in Madrid in 1952, as published by the New Yorker. “Europe for me is governed by the price of mortadella.”

She gave herself two years to succeed. She did, beginning a 25-year collaboration with a renowned fiction editor of the New Yorker, William Maxwell.

“Her voice was a defining one for New Yorker fiction: clear, sharp, penetrating, often breathtaking in its ability to dissect human emotions, motivations, flaws, and moments of grace,” New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman said in a statement to the Associated Press. “She was an observer, a portraitist both of social niceties — no gesture went unnoted — and of the brutality of what can happen in our own minds.”

“I wanted to live in Paris and write nothing but fiction and be perfectly free,” Ms. Gallant said in a 1999 interview with the Paris Review literary magazine. “I just held my breath and jumped. I didn’t even look to see if there was water in the pool.”

As she said in a 2006 documentary on the Bravo! television network, “I found for the first time in my life a society where you could say you’re a writer and not be asked for three months’ rent in advance.”

Ms. Gallant didn’t often write about herself, but she wrote often of people who, like her, lived in exile. Some of her early life is revealed in a series of stories in the collection “Home Truths.”

In addition to more than 10 collections of short stories, Ms. Gallant wrote two novels, “Green Water, Green Sky” (1959) and “A Fairly Good Time” (1970), as well as the 1982 play “What Is to Be Done?”

Ms. Gallant told the Paris Review that writing is like “a love affair: the beginning is the best part.”

“I write every day,” she said. “It is not a burden. It is the way I live.”

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