On Easter Sunday, the University of Windsor community lost Dr. Alistair MacLeod: professor emeritus, writer in residence, and one of the greatest Canadian short story writers.
MacLeod, born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan on July 20, 1935 died peacefully with his family at his side at the age of 77.
An Officer of the Order of Canada and the first Canadian to win the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his first and only novel No Great Mischief (1999), MacLeod was known in the literary world as one of the greats, but here in Windsor he was also known for being a dedicated professor, an approachable colleague, and an inspiration to young, local writers.
Marty Gervais, Windsor’s first poet laureate and a colleague of MacLeod’s at the university said that the writer’s door was always open to students, faculty, and members of the public.
“It didn’t matter whether you were a good writer or a bad writer; he was open to talking with you, he would read your work, he would be honest with you, and he would be encouraging as well,” said Gervais. “He could talk your ear off with stories…but he was also a good listener. He was genuinely interested in what you were all about.”
“He was such a master…but he was also a great storyteller just sitting there talking to you,” said Gervais. “There would be one story after another and you would just think, ‘Why is this world renowned short story writer spending all this time with me?’”
Gervais said that MacLeod was old-fashioned when it came to his writing techniques, often jotting down notes inside exam booklets rather than using a computer.
“He had an old computer sitting on the floor in a box that was actually new, but it was probably fourteen years old…He had never opened it,” said Gervais. “He even had an email address, but he never used it either.” MacLeod’s writing habits were a reflection on his precise style according to Priscilla Bernauer, a graduating University of Windsor education student who studied two of MacLeod’s poems in high school before entering the university’s creative writing program.
“He didn’t like using email or anything like that and I think it says a lot about him as an author because so often we can backspace and fix what we write, but for him it was a cherished opportunity to get his point across.”
“When I came to the university for the first time I was a bit star struck. For the first month I was actually scared to talk to him because he was this great Canadian author, but he was much more than that…He was an actual human being and it showed in the way he said hi to people as he walked by,” said Bernauer.
University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman said the reverberations of MacLeod’s work and his presence on campus will be felt for years to come.
“In 1969 he chose the University of Windsor as his academic home, a home from where he could pursue his love of teaching and learning and his love of Cape Breton. He made our University a better place,” read Wildeman’s message. “He will be deeply missed by our colleagues and students, and by writers, readers and friends here and around the world.”
“All who knew him know how wonderful it was to sit with him and chat and share stories. In the days and weeks to come there will be many tales told across the land by those who had the fortune of his friendship or acquaintance.”
Gervais said that the stories MacLeod wrote have reached people’s hearts across national boundaries and each group of readers sees MacLeod as one of their own.
“Scotland thinks that he’s the greatest Scottish writer. They claim him. Canada claims him. Windsor claims him. Everyone is claiming Alistair as their own. He belongs to everyone because that’s what the power of a short story is.”