Guy Vanderhaeghe talks about a lifelong conversation


Above, left to right: York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden and Chancellor Avie Bennett congratulate author Guy Vanderhaeghe

Thirty years ago, if you had asked celebrated Canadian author and playwright Guy Vanderhaeghe what he would eventually become after high school, he probably would have shrugged. An avid reader as a child, at age 11 he aspired to be a novelist, but that dream drifted away during high school, only to reemerge during his graduate studies in history at the University of Saskatchewan.

On Friday morning, Vanderhaeghe was honoured for his lifetime achievements as a novelist and for his contribution to Canadian literature. At the Faculty of Arts convocation ceremony, York conferred on him an honorary doctorate of literature.

Vanderhaeghe peppered his address to new graduates with ample doses of humour. “I may very well be your parents and, perhaps your own, worst nightmare,” he said. “Someone frivolous, with too much imagination and without regular employment, or as an aunt of mine put it ‘all that education and the boy just won’t work’. This puts me in the awkward position of having nothing to offer to you but my personal remarks about how my arts education had a role in the making of a writer.”

Vanderhaeghe observed that his 35-year career as a writer of fiction had actually been a continual dialogue with the past, the present and the future.That dialogue, and the ability to think and challenge conventions through conversation, he said, began in university and continued throughout his life. Vanderhaeghe highlighted the power of conversation as being critical in his success and an important quality that graduates should take from their university education.

“University dialogue encourages the exchange of ideas. The outcome of this dialogue is unpredictable: sparks may fly but that is its beauty and that is the source of its power. The fruitful exchange of information and ideas with the hope that something good might arise, that was important,” he said. “Today, your concerns are different, but I hope that during your time at University, you encountered students who inspired you.”

Vanderhaeghe observed that students should not close the chapter of their university experience. “Perhaps you are departing with a sense of an episode closed, only to find that it isn’t. I encourage you all not to abandon conversation and the spirit of inquiry that you learned in University. This is particularly important in an age where the act of conversation is increasingly becoming silenced. Conversation inspires vision, vision is the antithesis of blind certainty, vision leads to tolerance.”

Born in Esterhazy, Saskatchewan, in 1951,
Vanderhaeghe is an award-winning author and playwright. He has published four novels, My Present Age (1984), Homesick (1989), The Englishman’s Boy (1996) and The Last Crossing (2002). The Englishman’s Boy was winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, a finalist for The Giller Prize and the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He is also the author of three collections of short stories, Man Descending (1982), winner of the Governor’s General’s Award and the Faber Prize in the UK, and The Trouble With Heroes (1983), and Things As They Are? (1992).