Meeting Farley Mowat

by DaniGirl on November 19, 2006 · 9 comments

in Books, Canadianisms

There are some people who are so iconic, so legendary, that when you actually meet them in person, it’s a little bit of a surprise to find out that they are ordinary flesh and blood after all.

Farley Mowat is that kind of person. I think he was the first person I ever understood to be a Canadian Author. The fact that he wrote books was important, but the fact that he was a Canadian who wrote books was even more important. Reading Never Cry Wolf was the first time I, born and bred in the city, became aware that ‘wilderness’ was more than the park at the end of the street, with its little copse of trees.

This week, Farley Mowat was in the neighbourhood because they named a school after him. He said that of all the honours he has received, including the most prestigious Order of Canada, having the school named after him was his greatest honour.

Friday night, he was in our local bookstore for a small reading and a book signing, and I couldn’t resist going. I have a small collection of autographed Canadian literature: Douglas Coupland, Margaret Atwood, Mordechai Richler, and a few local authors. I’d love to meet Will Ferguson some day, and add his signature to my collection, and the autographed book I most covet is that of the reclusive Alice Munro, my first favourite author. Maybe some day.

But I never imagined that I’d have a chance to meet someone as iconic, as mythic, as Farley Mowat. The man is 85 years old, and from what I saw yesterday, still sharp as a tack. He’s a known curmudgeon, but was charming and eloquent in the brief question and answer session that followed his reading from his latest book, Bay of Spirits. I stood in line for about an hour to have him sign my newly acquired hardcover, and I estimate I was about the middle of the pack. The poor man must have had a serious case of writer’s cramp by the time he got home that night.

They had asked that we write on a post-it note exactly what we wanted him to write, but by the time I got to the desk, he was merely writing “to so-and-so” and his own signature. Given the fact that it was near my bedtime on a Friday night after a particularly long week, I hadn’t come up with anything more clever than “To Danielle, (Beloved), Tristan, Simon and Baby” anyway.

(My favourite author autograph was actually how Douglas Coupland inscribed my companion’s copy of Generation X back in 1993. He wrote, “Dear Tom, Thanks for helping me knock over that 7-11. Your pal, Doug.” He wrote it across a traced outline of his own hand.)

Farley… er, Mr. Mowat… er, Farley Mowat took a moment after writing all that down to look up at me, and I could do nothing more intelligent than beam a thousand-watt smile at him. Lacking something pithy to say, but with utter sincerity, I told him it was truly an honour to meet him. He smiled his own genuine smile and said, “I would say God bless you, my dear,” and he gestured toward the very long epigraph he had just inscribed, “but it looks like your life is full of blessings already.”

I smiled the whole way home. It’s truly a joy when a hero is able to not only meet, but surpass your expectations of him.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 nancy November 19, 2006 at 1:53 am

Tears…in…eyes…beautiful.

2 cinnamon gurl November 19, 2006 at 2:30 am

My best (and pretty much only) author autograph was Al Purdy signing _To Paris Never Again_ with “For Kate with fading memory of red hair Best Wishes”…
When I was a kid, I got “Never Cry Wolf” mixed up in my head with “The Boy who Cried Wolf.” I remember watching the movie, waiting for the boy to cry wolf. But he never did. I found it deeply confusing.

3 Phil November 19, 2006 at 2:38 am

Awesome story! Made even more awesome for me because today I was in the bookstore and saw some book on the shelf by an author with the last name of Farley. Just seeing that reminded me of Farley Mowat and made me wonder if he was still alive. It’s been years since I read Never Cry Wolf, Sea of Slaughter, My Discovery or America, and my own personal fave, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. And then I come home and see your post! I love it when stuff like that happens.

4 The Fryman November 19, 2006 at 6:22 am

D –
I interviewed Farley Mowat for CFRC back in 1990 or so. Awesomely cool guy, and I agree he exceeded expectations. I asked one question – something to the effect of what made him keep writing – and he went on for at least 20 minutes of my 30 minute interview. My favorite was him explaining how he was concieved in a red canoe….wish I still had that tape.

5 BeachMama November 19, 2006 at 9:36 pm

WOW. That is so awesome. I had meant to go but, then forgot on the day that he was there, bummer.

6 Sayre November 19, 2006 at 10:42 pm

How awesome! I loved “Never Cry Wolf” and have passed that love along to many other people. I am so jealous that you got to meet him and that he turned out to be such a wonderful person too!

7 andrea from the fishbowl November 20, 2006 at 1:42 pm

Farley is good people. And I empathise with your tonguetiedyness. I had the opportunity to get the autograph of Michael Ondaatje when “The English Patient” came out. He did a reading at the National Archives.
I stood in line for ages, thinking and worrying about what I was going to say. It had to be something brilliant! Something memorable! Something to make his day!
The best I could muster was “great book.”
Gah.

8 Bunmaster L November 23, 2006 at 2:24 am

Douglas Copeland signed my Generation X book the same way back in 1992. The traced outline of his hand but the inscription he put in yours is way cooler. I just got a “To Laura” but hey, it’s still pretty cool.
I’m so glad you got to meet one of your heroes. It sounds like a wonderful experience.

9 Amie Sauvé November 29, 2006 at 1:14 pm

My name is Amie Sauvé and I am with the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). I am the Associate Editor for http://www.InnovationCanada.ca, our popular online magazine that showcases research excellence in Canada.
We are trying to get in contact with Farley Mowat to invite him to be a guest writer for our March 2007 issue which will feature International Polar Year.
Is there any way you could possibly point me in the right direction so that I may contact him?
With kind regards,
Amie Sauvé
Coordinator, Multimedia and Publication Services / Coordonnatrice, Services multimédias et publications
Canada Foundation for Innovation / Fondation canadienne pour l’innovation
230 rue Queen St., Suite/pièce 450 Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5E4
Tel./Tél. : (613) 996-3198 Fax./Téléc. : (613) 996-3148
http://www.innovation.ca

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