Eugene McNamara is a profound voice in Canadian Literature. A native of Chicago, he emigrated to Canada in 1959. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Windsor.
Joyce Carol Oates described his short stories thus: “The short stories of Eugene McNamara are warmly, often deeply engaging; they are wry, bittersweet and wise.”
His stories and poems have been in Best Canadian Stories, Best American Short Stories and in such magazines as Ontario Review, Saturday Night, Malahat Review and Queens Quarterly. He has given frequent readings of his work in Canada, the US and England.
He attended Northwestern University where he received his PhD and emigrated to Canada in l959.
He taught American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor where he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English. He founded the University of Windsor Review in l965 and was Editor until l987. He is now retired.
&Mac183; McNamara has a gritty and down-to-earth style of writing that is all his own.
Among his awards:
o In l994 the University of Windsor Alumni Association presented him with their annual award for distinguished teaching.
o In l998 he was given the City of Windsor Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Literary Arts.
o In May, 2000 the Windsor Classic Chorale premiered Matins, a piece for chorus and piano by John Burge based on one of McNamara’s poems.
o In October, 2000 he was awarded an honorary degree by Assumption University
Writing a movie script for Sammy Davis, Jr., breaking up a fight between Len Gasparini and Irving Layton, letting Layton borrow his coat because someone swiped his, playing practical jokes on the American icon Joyce Carol Oates and establishing one of the first creative writing departments in Canadian universities . . . These are the tales — many of them funny — in this delightful memoir of Eugene McNamara’s Irving’s Coat.
Tracing his life from Chicago where he penned a movie script for Davis to moving to Canada where he was involved in the emergence of a literary scene in the 1960s and 1970s in southwestern Ontario, McNamara writes about those early publishing years, putting out a magazine called
Mainline and starting the Windsor Review. Into this story, he writes about not only Layton, but Purdy, W. O. Mitchell, Tom Wayman and others.
Non-fiction, paperback, 86 pages, $15
Published in 2004 "Grace Notes: New and Selected Poems is my fourteenth book of poems. I think it represents some of the best work I have done over the past thirty years." -Eugene McNamara
An Excerpt from Irving’s Coat
It was a wildly successful reading. (including, yes, some of the jokey crowd-pleasers) And during it someone stole his coat, which was hung up just outside the auditorium.
In a fit of enthusiasm I took off my coat, held it out to him and said he could wear it home and send it back later.
Now, mine was an important coat. I had bought it at Morgan’s in Montreal. In a sense my coat was going home. It was a thick, nubby, rough grey and white tweed with leather covered buttons and leather under the collar. My gesture was a serious thing.
He went home and time passed. Several weeks later, a large box arrived on our porch. My coat, alive and well. With the needle head to a long-playing phonograph in one pocket. Something he had forgotten there on an errand to a stereo shop. I sent it back to him. How much music had he missed while the needle was in transit?
So my important coat was back. I loved that coat. I do not have it any more. The only other coat I loved as well was a black leather trench coat, cut on Gestapo officer lines, which I bought in London in 1971. It cost forty guineas and I think I wore it for at least fifteen winters. I gave it to my son, Christopher, who says he still has it but I’ve never seen him wearing it. That coat was stronger than I was.
Layton came back several times afterwards. But his poetry had begun to change. It became more polemical. He tended to rant. And the crowd-pleasing poems—the stand-up one liner poems took up more time. He did the priapus-shock poems, the diatribes against organized Christianity and the self-indulgent poems. Jeremiads, kvetches, howl of rant. I yearned for that tall man lifting his head up against the sky.
But I still remember the first visits and often think of my tweed coat, swaggering down a street in Montreal.
P.S. Margaret thinks that W.O. Mitchell wore the Ports suit. She may be right.
She probably is right.
Irving Layton died January 5, 2006 at the age of ninety-three.