William Arthur Deacon was an intellectual patron and prophet in Canadian writing. For forty years, as literary editor of Saturday Night (1922-8), The Mail and Empire (1928-36), and The Globe and Mail (1936-60) he contributed vast amounts of time and energy to building a readership and a sympathetic climate for Canadian writers and writing. His correspondence put him in touch, as no other reviewer before him, with virtually every English- and French-Canadian author of his time.
Based on his correspondence, books, and review columns, the biography views Deacon’s life in terms of this involvement and in the context of the cultural and political forces of his time. Deacon’s early years as a lawyer, his self-imposed literary apprenticeship, and his break with the law as a profession concurred with the sense of mission and destiny that were part of his Methodist family background and his personal theosophical beliefs. Coming to Toronto in 1922, he quickly established himself as the country’s premier literary reviewer and poured his energies into that role. In that decade he also published Pens and Pirates, Poteen, The Four Jameses, and the appreciative monograph Peter McArthur.
Deacon’s dismissal from Saturday Night and the Depression years tempered his zeal and broadened his awareness beyond literary horizons, although they were still the focus of his energies. His nationalism and pacifism were articulated in My Vision of Canada (1933). He also found himself more aware of the importance of literary community as he became deeply involved in the survival of Canadian writers and publishers. Deacon’s years with the Canadian Author’s Association, first as member, then as Toronto branch president, and finally as national president, witnessed the establishment of the Canadian Writers’ Foundation, the Governor-General’s Awards, the Standard Writers’ Contract, and the recognition by the federal government of special tax arrangements for Canadian writers.
The list of those who enjoyed Deacon’s friendship and support reads like a who’s who of Canadian literature, and his associations with French-Canadian writers after the Second World War broadened the cultural awareness of his readers.
His service to both reader and writer and to the culture on which both depend was without parallel – as this volume vividly reveals.
About the authors
Clara Thomas (1919-2013) was a professor emerita of English at York University. Through her publishing, teaching and public speaking, she continuously sought to raise the profile of Canadian women writers both within the country and within the international community.
John Lennox is Professor of English, York University, and a specialist in Canadian Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the Governor-General's International Award in Canadian Studies, which is given annually for outstanding service to scholarship and to the development of Canadian Studies internationally.
‘This is not only a biography of a great and generous man who devoted his life to Canadian writing, publishing, and reviewing; it is also a spirited account of Canadian letters over some four decades. Anyone interested in the literature of our country should read this book.’
‘Je me hâte de vous féliciter de préparer une biographie de cet excellent ami des écrivains canadiens, de langue française et de langue anglaise, qui fut William Arthur Deacon…
C’était un homme d’une exquise générosité…J’ai mille souvenirs heureux de cet homme bon, perspicace et grand ami des Lettres. Je ne puis donc que me réjouir de votre projet d’honorer sa mémoire.’
‘This valuable volume illuminates the passionate intelligence that turned William Arthur Deacon into Can. Lit.’s earliest and most perceptive Boswell.’
Peter C. Newman