Graeme Gibson

Thomas Graeme Cameron Gibson CM FRCGS (9 August 1934 – 18 September 2019) was a Canadian novelist.[1] He was a Member of the Order of Canada (1992), a Senior Fellow of Massey College and one of the organizers of the Writers Union of Canada (chair, 1974–75). He was also a founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada's writing community.[1]

Graeme Gibson

BornThomas Graeme Cameron Gibson
(1934-08-09)9 August 1934
London, Ontario, Canada
Died18 September 2019(2019-09-18) (aged 85)
London, England
Alma materUniversity of Western Ontario
Notable worksPerpetual Motion (1982)
SpouseShirley Gibson (div. c. 1973)
PartnerMargaret Atwood (1973–2019; his death)


The elder son of Brigadier General Thomas Graeme Gibson, a career Army officer, and radio singer Mary (née Cameron), of Australian origin,[2] Gibson's family frequently moved around during his childhood, going from Halifax to Ottawa to Toronto where he attended Upper Canada College.[3] As an author, Gibson wrote both novels and non-fiction. His first novel, Five Legs (1969), is widely regarded as a breakthrough in Canadian experimental literature.[4] His other novels include Communion (1971), Gentleman Death (1993), and Perpetual Motion (1982).[1] His non-fiction included Eleven Canadian Novelists (1973) and more recently, The Bedside Book of Birds (2005) and The Bedside Book of Beasts (2009).[1]

Gibson was awarded the Toronto Arts Award (1990) the Harbourfront Festival prize in 1993, and he was made a member of the Order of Canada.[1]

An arts, environmental and social justice advocate, Gibson was one of the founders of the Writers' Union of Canada, which recognized his contribution by establishing an award in his honour in 1991.[5] He was involved in the formation of the Writer's Trust of Canada and was a co-founder and president (1987–89) of PEN Canada.[6][7] He also had a small acting role in the 1983 film The Wars.

His environmental advocacy was largely focused around his longtime love of birds. He was a founder and chair of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, served on the Council of the World Wildlife Fund, and with Margaret Atwood, as co-chair of Birdlife International's Rare Bird Club. He was a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which awarded him a Gold Medal in 2015.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

Gibson was married to publisher Shirley Gibson until the early 1970s, and together they had two sons, Matt and Grae.[9][10] He began dating novelist and poet Margaret Atwood in 1973.[1] They moved to a semi-derelict farm near Alliston, Ontario, which they set about doing up and where according to Atwood they were making "attempts at farming, writing and trying to earn enough to live".[11] Their daughter Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson was born there in 1976. The family returned to Toronto in 1980.[12] Atwood and Gibson stayed together until his death in 2019.

In 2017 Gibson was diagnosed with early signs of vascular dementia.[13][11] Despite having written a book on birds, he could no longer identify those he liked to watch in his garden, but said "I no longer know their names, but then, they don't know my name either".[14] He died on 18 September 2019 in London, England, where Atwood was promoting her new book, five days after having a big stroke.[15][16] Atwood later said about his death that it had not been unexpected due to the vascular dementia, had been a good one—and in a good hospital, and his children had time to come and say goodbye—and that he had been "declining and he had wanted to check out before he reached any further stages of that".[11]

Following his death, the Writers' Trust of Canada renamed its annual fiction award, formerly the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, to the Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in early 2021.[17]


  • Five Legs (1969)
  • Communion (1971)
  • Eleven Canadian Novelists (1973)
  • Perpetual Motion (1982)
  • Gentleman Death (1993)
  • The Bedside Book of Birds (2005)
  • The Bedside Book of Beasts (2009)

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Graeme Gibson's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Obituaries, Telegraph (19 September 2019). "Graeme Gibson, experimental novelist and environmental activist who was a source of great support to his wife, Margaret Atwood – obituary". The Telegraph.
  3. ^ "Author Graeme Gibson was a leader of Canada's literary scene". Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  4. ^ "The Muse Acclimatized". Canadian Literature. 1969.
  5. ^ "Graeme Gibson Award". The Writers Union of Canada. 22 May 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Our Story". Writers' Trust of Canada. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  7. ^ "In Memoriam Graeme Gibson". PEN Canada. 19 September 2019. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Remembering Author and Environmentalist Graeme Gibson". Canadian Geographic Society. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  9. ^ Potts, Robert (26 April 2003). "Light in the wilderness". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  10. ^ "The elusive Margaret Atwood | Quill and Quire". Quill and Quire. 28 April 2004. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Miranda Sawyer (12 September 2020). "Margaret Atwood: 'If you're going to speak truth to power, make sure it's the truth'". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Sutherland, John (2012). Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives. Yale University Press. p. 721. ISBN 978-0-300-18243-9.
  13. ^ "Margaret Atwood, the Prophet of Dystopia". The New Yorker. 18 September 2019.
  14. ^ Freeman, Hadley (19 February 2022). "Margaret Atwood on feminism, culture wars and speaking her mind: 'I'm very willing to listen, but not to be scammed'". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Penguin Random House [@penguinrandom] (18 September 2019). "Doubleday today shares the sad news that celebrated Canadian author Graeme Gibson has died" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  16. ^ "Canadian author Graeme Gibson dead at 85". CP24. 18 September 2019.
  17. ^ "Writers' Trust renames fiction prize after co-founders and couple Atwood and Gibson". CTV News, January 27, 2021.