Pieces of Myself: Fragments for an Autobiography by Keith Garebian

Arrival is the title Nick Mount gave his 2017 tome about the birth of so-called Canlit. The jacket copy trumpeted, “In the mid-twentieth century, Canadian literature transformed from a largely ignored trickle of books into an enormous cultural phenomena.”

That phenomena has been producing reflections on that explosion for over a quarter-century now – some celebratory, others piercing like pointed sticks. These range from George Fetherling’s Travels By Night (1994) and Way Down Deep in the Belly of the Beast (1996) to Matt Cohen’s Typing: A Life in 26 Keys (1999) to more recent, less nostalgic critical summaries like 2018’s Refuse: CanLit in Ruins, co-edited by Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak, & Erin Wunker.

Into this company comes Keith Garebian’s Pieces of Myself: Fragments of an Autobiography. Garebian, award-winning author of over a dozen works of non-fiction and 10 of poetry, arrived in Montréal from India as a teenager in the early 1960s. Born Anglo-Indian in Bombay, he would complete a PdD in English at Queen’s University, Kingston (thesis: Shakespeare) and go on to become one of Canada’s leading theatre critics and a figure in the Canlit cultural phenomenon.

Garebian’s father was an Armenian Genocide survivor, and his mother’s side, he writes, “can be charted back to England, and perhaps Spain, Portugal, or Ireland.” Pieces of Myself tells the story of his coming of age and professional life, leaving out, as he notes, “my two failed marriages, some of my other passionate relationships, and my sexuality.”

And quite a life it has been.

Calling his life “a story of exile,” he confirms “what has survived is my deep-rooted belief in the value of literate articulation.” His has been, clearly, a life in letters, and this memoir tracks his persistent engagement with the literary arts: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, theatre. From his earliest days to the present (in 2023, he turns 80), his thoughts have turned to those things that obsessed Hamlet: words, words, words.

The book includes lengthy chapters on Garebian’s literary friends (John Metcalf, Irving Layton, Hugh Hood), his theatre friends (William Hutt, Heath Lamberts), and a summary of his lengthy list of publications: theatre histories, literary analysis, biographies, memoirs, and poetry collections. He began reviewing books in 1975 and nearly 50 years later notes “not much has changed” (e.g., it is bad out there). Book reviewers, he says wryly, “are fortunate to find a place on the final lifeboat of the sinking ship of Canadian journalism.” Fees have not increased and column inches in newspapers for book news have shrunk substantially.

As a history of the Canlit phenomenon, Pieces of Myself is hit and miss. Garebian takes readers behind certain scenes. For example, he recounts how Sheila Fischman ended his gig as a book reviewer at the Montréal Star by telling him, “But we are not the New York Times, you know.” His story about interviewing a reticent Mordecai Richler is insightful and gentle.

On the other hand, elements of score-settling are included, and occasional snarky comments tend to distract. Do we need to know that the Stratford Festival’s Artistic and Executive Directors failed to attend the launch of Garebian’s 2017 biography of Stratford legend, William Hutt? Probably not.

Pieces of Myself is, in the end, a song of the self, and the author offers a powerful summation and advice about existence in the final chapter: “Life is motion, which mean that various strange combinations rattle about, sometimes moving me forward, sometimes backward, creating contrapuntal forces without a central unifying theme. But this, ironically, is a freedom – a freedom to be dissonant, anomalous, and, best of all, a freedom to be creative while feeling out of place.”

Keith Garebian is a widely published, award-winning freelance literary, theatre, and dance critic, biographer, and poet. Among his many awards are the Scarborough Arts Council Poetry Award (2010), the Canadian Authors Association (Niagara Branch) Poetry Award (2009), the Mississauga Arts Award (2000, 2008 and 2013), a Dan Sullivan Memorial Poetry Award (2006), the Lakeshore Arts/Scarborough Arts Council Award for Poetry (2003), and an Ontario Poetry Society Award for Haiku (2003). He is the author of 7 collections of poetry.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ MiroLand (June 1 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 246 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771838000
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771838009

Michael Bryson has been reviewing books since the 1990s in publications such as The Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Paragraph Magazine, Id Magazine, and Quill & Quire. His short story collections include Thirteen Shades of Black and White (1999) and The Lizard and Other Stories (2009). His fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and other anthologies. His story Survival is available as a Kindle single. From 1999-2018, he oversaw 78 issues of fiction, poetry, reviews, author interviews, essays, and other features at The Danforth Review. He lives in Scarborough, Ontario, and blogs at Art/Life: Scribblings.