Founded in 1991, the Graeme Gibson Award recognizes varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada. Graeme was, appropriately, its first recipient.

About Graeme Gibson

Graeme Gibson was born in London, Ontario, in 1934 and educated at the University of Western Ontario, but lived most of his life in Toronto. Early in his career, he taught at the Ryerson Institute of Technology, now Ryerson University, and in the 1980s was writer-in-residence at the University of Waterloo and the University of Ottawa.

From the first time he put pen to paper, Graeme lived the writing life. He published four novels, roughly one per decade: Five Legs (1969), Communion (1971), Perpetual Motion (1982), and Gentleman Death (1993), as well as the short story “Pancho Villa’s Head.” He also wrote for film, radio, and television, and in 1973, released a book of interviews, Eleven Canadian Novelists, including a conversation with his future partner, Margaret Atwood.

As well as a writer, Graeme was a lifelong birder. His twin obsessions came together in 2005 in the highly original The Bedside Book of Birds, a miscellany of avian representations in poetry, prose, and art throughout human history. A companion volume, The Bedside Book of Beasts (2009), explores relationships between predators and their prey. Graeme was instrumental in founding the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, he was a council member of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and was Joint Honorary President, with Margaret Atwood, of BirdLife International’s Rare Bird Club. 

An activist with a passion for the power of collective action, Graeme was a founding member and chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, as well as a founding member of the Writers’ Trust and PEN Canada. In 1973 he began a literary resource guide, concurrently developing the Book and Periodical Development Council (now the Book and Periodical Council), which he later chaired.

Graeme’s literary achievements have been recognized with the Toronto Arts Award (1990) and the Harbourfront Festival Prize (1993). He was inducted as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and as an honourary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2007.

In 1991, the Writers’ Union recognized his service to Canadian writers by establishing the Graeme Gibson Award, given “for varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada.” 

Graeme died on September 18, 2019, in the University College Hospital in London, England, with friends and family beside him.

A version of this biography first appeared as Merilyn Simon's Author Note in Communion (an excerpt), published in 2013 to commemorate the Union’s 40th anniversary.

Graeme Gibson Award Winners

  • 2018: Lenore Keeshig, author, for her determined leadership in discussion of equity issues faced by Indigenous and racialized writers in Canada, and for building the foundation for TWUC’s current equity work.
  • 2013: Marian Hebb, legal counsel to The Writers’ Union of Canada since 1978, for her tireless support of writers’ rights and, especially, her committed defense of copyright.
  • 2012: Andreas Schroeder, author, for his leadership in achieving and establishing Public Lending Right in Canada, which compensates authors for the use of their work in libraries.
  • 2011: Heather Robertson, author, in recognition of her extraordinary commitment to fair compensation for writers and her persistence, for more than 13 years, in the Robertson vs Thomson lawsuit that she launched and ultimately won. The lawsuit resulted in an $11 million settlement and payment was made to freelancers whose work was used without their permission.
  • 1992: Pierre Berton, author, for his outstanding support of Canadian authors and his contributions to The Writers’ Union of Canada.
  • 1991: Graeme Gibson, author, for his varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada.