NEWS

No women on U of T literature syllabus

09/25/2013 03:04 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST
David Gilmour says when students leave his class on the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, he hopes they will “run down the street and buy Chekhov”.

But when students want to read female authors, he hopes they will take another course.

Gilmour, a literature instructor at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College, told Random House this week he does not want women writers on his syllabus.

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” he says. “What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.“

Gilmour, who is also an award winning author and former CBC television host, was the recipient of the Governor General's literary award in 2008 for his novel A Perfect Night to Go to China. His recent novel Extraordinary is on the Giller long list.

Despite his bona fides in literature, though, he says he is not equipped to teach writing by women. Or at least not well enough.

“I teach passionately,” he says, defending his position. “One way I’m an effective teacher is when I teach what I’m passionate about. I’m not passionate about books by Chinese authors, or by female authors.”

The revelation caused minor shock waves on social media. Gilmour has heard some of the complaints, admitting "for some reason this seems to have struck a nerve."

Universities and the literary canon have historically skewed toward a male perspective. But that’s a tradition Gilmour says he’s not following.

"I teach middle-aged men writers not because they are better or because women are not as good," he says. "I only teach what I adore and can communicate. I’m simply not passionately enough engaged in female writers. That’s all."

Gilmour says he is one professor among hundreds, and that if you want Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood, go down the hall where "there are people who teach women writers much much better than I can."

He admits every year arms go up in his class to ask where the women writers are. But overall he tells CBC News his class approves of the curriculum.

"I’d say 90 per cent of the class are women. They choose the course based on that curriculum," he says. "That’s middle-aged male writers taught by a middle-aged man."

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