Mavis Gallant, best known for her short stories in The New Yorker, died in her Paris home on Tuesday. She was 91. Her agent Georges Borchardt confirmed her passing, saying that she had succumbed to various ailments that had taken her in and out of hospitals for the past three years.
Gallant was born Mavis Leslie Young in Montreal, Canada to a British father and an American mother. At the age of four, she was sent to boarding school. After her father died when she was ten, her mother married another man and left Canada, leaving the young Mavis with a guardian. However, she was not informed about her father’s death, and believed he would come for her. It would be several years until she knew the truth. In a 2012 interview, she confessed that in many of her stories, someone has vanished, “and it’s often the father.”
Her first foray into writing was as a feature writer for Montreal’s The Standard. Her experience as a journalist gave her the opportunity to be keenly aware of how people behaved, and to look into the human condition. Her experience and observations would later provide her with the rich and insightful content characteristic of her stories.
When she left journalism in 1950, she tried her hand at writing fiction. The New Yorker accepted her story “Madeline’s Birthday.” It would be her first of many stories for the publication—114 in all. Interestingly, she did not know her story was accepted, and only found out when she was reading the magazine in a library and saw her name there. She then decided to make a living from her writing, moving from city to city, finally settling in Paris. Her stories resonated with issues of abandonment and displacement, with characters that did not fall in love but went on with their lives nonetheless.
Aside from short fiction, Gallant also wrote novels and essays. Her marriage to musician John Gallant ended in divorce after five years, and she had no children.
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