In the past month, the literary community bid farewell to three authors who produced a lifetime of critically acclaimed and universally recognized work. First Columbian novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and journalist Gabriel Garćia Márquez died at the age of 87, followed within three days by Canadian novelist, short story writer, and academic Alistair MacLeod at 77 years. Then on May 6, 2014 Canadian author/environmentalist Farley Mowat passed away at the age of 92. Garćia Márquez and MacLeod each received dozens of literary awards in their lifetimes – including a Nobel Prize for Literature for Garćia Márquez. Mowat also left a legacy decorated with Canadian literary awards and a ship named in his honour.
Gabriel Garćia Márquez is best known for his novels 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Despite being born and raised in an isolated Columbian town and struggling financially during his early adulthood, Garćia Márquez’s talent allowed him to triumph over his difficult situation to become one of the most respected writers of the Twentieth Century. His writing served as an influence for great contemporary writers such as Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, and Canada’s own Michael Crummey.
Alistair MacLeod, whose 1999 novel No Great Mischief has been called Atlantic Canada’s greatest book of all time, taught English and Creative Writing for over three decades at the University of Windsor, and his short stories and novel influenced countless writers across the world. MacLeod was known for being a perfectionist, and his eye for detail shows through in his work. Canadian poet Lorna Crozier said of MacLeod following his passing, “Did anyone look into the face of suffering with such a clear eye and with such a faith, finally and at great cost, in human decency?”
Farley Mowat achieved fame with books chronicling life in the Canadian North and his advocacy for environmental causes. His 1956 novel Lost in the Barrens won a Governor General’s Award, and he published more than thirty other books in his lifetime which have sold over 15 million copies – more than any other Canadian author. Fellow environmentalist David Suzuki said Mowat “drew his passion and inspiration from Canada’s natural beauty and the original people who inhabited it, elements that are a big part of our identity.”
An outpouring of public tributes combining grief and admiration were seen for these writers, demonstrating the immense impact their words have had on the world. Though they may not have lived the type of fast-paced, anxiety-riddled writerly existence glamourize in film and popular fiction, these gentlemen of words prove that longevity and commitment to craft are the true marks of an artist. As Garćia Márquez himself said, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
The youthful exuberance – and wise knowledge – in the writings of Garćia Márquez, Mowat, and MacLeod will allow them to live on, as masters of the written word and purveyors of timeless tales.