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Author who won’t teach ‘books by women’ provokes Twitter wrath

David Gilmour is either itching for a fight or looking to get fired.


Miles Klee


Posted on Sep 25, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 5:40 am CDT

The online literary world is abuzz today with the naming of this year’s MacArthur “genius” Fellows, but even on a day of writerly cheer, there’s a bitter bookish argument to be had in the Internet’s gutters. This time, it’s about some comments made by award-winning novelist and University of Toronto professor David Gilmour in a feature on publishing website Hazlitt, an extension of Random House of Canada.

Gilmour was the subject of a column called “Shelf Esteem,” which is a “weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler.” Keeler herself was understandably taken aback by what he said when she remarked that his academic office had only two books by women in it.

This week’s shelf esteem is David Gilmour, who said this to me: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women.”

— Emily M. Keeler (@emilymkeeler) September 25, 2013

Gilmour—who explained that usually University of Toronto requires its professors to have a doctorate, though he is an exception to that rule—explained his prejudice further:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, 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. … [U]sually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.

All this despite his praising, a few moments earlier, Proust’s keen sense of “gay vanity,” no less. Yes, it seems that Gilmour favors a specific lecherous-old-man type of narrative to anything that strays too far from those familiar tropes—and his own writing would bear that out, according to some of the Twitter critics who piled on:

David Gilmour is brilliant but he’s always written women as places where men put their penises. This isn’t shocking:

— The Book Mistress (@bookmistress) September 25, 2013

Im not interested in reading books by #david Gilmour. “I’m not interested in teaching books by women.”-David Gilmour

— MaryYoungLeckie (@MaryYoungLeckie) September 25, 2013

@daughteroffury @MissStaceyMay I know people who’ve had him as a teacher – lecherous, boring and unintelligent is the usual assessment.

— Madeleine Wall (@antapodosis) September 25, 2013

Oddly enough, Gilmour compounded his offense by remarking that there’s no book by a Canadian author he loves enough to teach, either. While we wait to see what the University of Toronto’s deans will make of that, some began to point out the obvious.

David Gilmour is not without talent but honestly I can name of scores of women JUST IN CANADA who write better than he does.

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) September 25, 2013

Lots of people had great ideas about how Gilmour must see himself—and how to adequately communicate their disgust with him.

I’m so sick of male artists who think misogyny makes them rebellious mavericks, too independent to be bullied by feminist harpies.

— Judy Berman (@judyberman) September 25, 2013

obviously we got to send this david gilmour guy some bell hooks and kathy acker right? or just menstrual pads?

— Kate Zambreno (@daughteroffury) September 25, 2013

Reality show where David Gilmour has to live in a house with smart and talented women WHO ARE ALSO NOVELISTS and he melts of disbelief.

— Jared Bland (@jaredbland) September 25, 2013

The spirit of Virgina Woolf tucks David Gilmour in every night, pressing a kiss to his brow to protect him from all the other women.

— NatalieZed (@NatalieZed) September 25, 2013

Even so, and regardless of whether Gilmour just expertly trolled us, we have to admit: there is something reassuring about his middle-aged-sexuality-obsessed brand of smug white guy complacency, right? He’s like a cartoon character!

There’s something almost cuddly about the old white male writer as decrepit museum, clinging to his Philip Roth & Henry Miller.

— Kate Zambreno (@daughteroffury) September 25, 2013

Oh, you stodgy old phallocentric author, how can we stay mad at you? Here you are, honestly trying to claim that 60-year-old Tropic of Cancer is somehow shocking to a 21st-century audience of teenagers raised on Web pornography. Give the man another prize, if only for having the courage of his sad, stupid convictions.

Photo by danepstein/Flickr

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*First Published: Sep 25, 2013, 3:00 pm CDT