An evening with William Whitehead
Last night, Cormorant Books and This Is Not a Reading Series hosted the launch of William Whitehead’s memoir Words To Live By at the Gladstone Hotel.
William (or Bill as he warmly corrected us) has been in Toronto for a few days already, firstly to sign copies of his book at Word On the Street this past Sunday and then for the official release of his book.
Before the launch, over coffee and french fries, Bill had all of us from Cormorant wrapped around his finger recalling snippets and little stories, from the origins of Stone Orchard (the country home he shared with partner, Timothy Findley), to editorial sessions at Penguin, to the chance discovery of an original L.M. Montgomery painting. It was easy to see how freely the facets of his extraordinary life spilled out onto the table between us and made everyone feel as though this was someone we have known for many years, despite it being a first meeting for many of us.
During the official launch, in the lovely Gladstone Ballroom, an interview was set up between Bill and Cormorant publisher Marc Cote. He revealed (thanks to selected questions from the Proust Questionnaire) his greatest fear (spiders), the best and worst qualities in himself (self-sufficiency/cowardice) and others (honesty/arrogance), and who he would never want to have dinner with (Stephen Harper). Even when faced with straightforward questions, Bill could not help but fall into some version of a story, giving context and humour to his answers. Alongside anecdotes about cellphones, stories from his time developing documentaries like The Nature of Things and Ideas, the fate of Stone Orchard, and life with Timothy Findley, Bill also mentioned his own personal tagline to his memoir as “Language: Power and Perils”. Using a childhood joke about cows, Bill exemplified how “language can do more than you intend it to” and that is why he both loved and feared it.
For the final question, Bill advised us that his answer was borrowed from Timothy Findley – “What words would you like to hear St. Peter say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”
“You’re late,” he said with a smirk.
William Whitehead’s memoir, Words To Live By, is now available, and all of us here at Cormorant encourage you to read it and get a glimpse inside the life of this wonderful Canadian figure. You’ll be happy you did.