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2013 Villain: David Gilmour

Nominated for: sending women writers "down the hall."

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

villain david gilmour jeremy kai

Emily Keeler has written dozens of installments of a column called Shelf Esteem for Hazlitt Magazine: informal, monologue-like pieces in which writers talk about their book collections. Her subjects have included Gail Scott, Chuck Klosterman, Zoe Whittall, and Carl Wilson; each piece offered a glimpse into a writer’s habits of collection, organization, obsession, and purging.

Then, on September 25, Keeler published an interview with novelist and University of Toronto lecturer David Gilmour. While discussing the collection of books at his Victoria College office Gilmour made a series of incendiary, often offensive, and frequently baffling remarks. He told Keeler that he is “not interested in teaching books by women,” and that “when I was given this job, I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.” (He did allow that he had a soft spot for Virginia Woolf.) “I teach only the best,” he proclaimed. And then, of course, there was this: “If you want women writers, go down the hall.”

Gilmour’s bizarre interview ignited a social media firestorm, and with it a landslide of responses, including letters from the University of Toronto Student Union, and from colleagues. Students arranged a protest.

Gilmour’s response: dig himself in deeper. In one particularly striking interview he said that Keeler was “a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself,” implying she misquoted him and misconstrued his statements. (Hazlitt responded by posting the unedited transcript.) He also claimed that his words were “tossed off” without much thought because he “was speaking to a Frenchman” on the phone during the interview.

Gilmour’s near universal dismissal of work by authors who are not white, middle-aged, heterosexual men is idiotic for reasons too numerous to express, and made all the worse because he is an instructor. He came across as even more tone-deaf and ill-informed, however, because of the present climate in the Canadian literary community, which is increasingly aware of this kind of discrimination, and attempting to combat it more actively and openly than before.

For becoming the symbol of everything that Canadian publishing and literature is pushing back against as it seeks to become more equitable and inclusive, David Gilmour is one of our Villains of 2013.


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