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David Gilmour responds after remarks on female writers spark outrage

Novelist and broadcaster David Gilmour seen in his home in Toronto. March 29, 2005

Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

University of Toronto visiting literature professor David Gilmour has no interest in teaching books written by women – including Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Alice Munro.

"When I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love," Gilmour is quoted as saying on Random House's Hazlitt blog. "Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women," he said.

The exception to the latter is Virginia Woolf, whose work he described as "too sophisticated, even for a third-year class."

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But in general, "what I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

It didn't take long for Internet reaction, branding Gilmour as a misogynist in online comments – or for the University of Toronto's Victoria College to issue a statement: "Neither Victoria College nor the University of Toronto endorses the views attributed to David Gilmour in the article. Mr. Gilmour, a noted Canadian author and journalist, teaches elective seminars on his area of expertise, leaving other areas of literature to be taught by colleagues who can do so most effectively based on their areas of specialization."

Gilmour's lack of female writers was noted by students on ratemyprofessors.com. One of the comments from 2012 stated: "Very full of himself. Painfully obvious that he favours the guys in the class. When asked why there were no female authors on the syllabus said 'I don't believe in 'good for you' literature.' Some students love him, but I honestly think while he might be intelligent he hasn't matured past adolescence."

The Globe contacted Gilmour – whose novel Extraordinary has been long-listed for the 2013 Giller Prize – for his comments on the Hazlitt fallout.

People are calling you a sexist for refusing to teach books by women. Were your statements in Hazlitt misrepresented in any way?

They were totally, totally misinterpreted. I said, look, I'm a middle-aged writer and I am interested in middle-aged writers. I'm very keen on people's lives who resemble mine because I understand those lives and I can feel passionately about them – and I teach best when I teach subjects that I'm passionate about.

So in order to teach, you have to relate?

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I believe that if you want to teach the way I want to teach, you have to be able to feel this stuff in your bones. Other teachers don't, but I don't think other teachers necessarily teach with the same degree of commitment and passion that I do – I don't know.

You don't actually believe that men are superior to women in their literary prowess?

God no. Writers like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro – these are top-flight international writers. It's just that I don't connect with the material as profoundly as I do with, say, Phillip Roth's The Dying Animal.

Do your novels resemble any of those you teach?

They would probably on a good day resemble some of Philip Roth and F. Scott Fitzgerald – they are both better writers than I am but I have been deeply influenced by both of them.

Are you concerned the Hazlitt interview might hurt your chances of winning the Giller Prize?

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No.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had incomplete information regarding David Gilmour's role at the University of Toronto. He is Pelham Edgar visiting professor at the university's Victoria College.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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