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Respected author, IPFW professor dies


– A great conversationalist, incredible writer and dedicated teacher who loathed faculty meetings.

That’s how friends remembered Alistair MacLeod, an acclaimed Canadian novelist and former English professor at IPFW.

MacLeod, who taught English for Indiana University’s English Department at the IPFW campus from 1966 to 1969, died last week at the age of 77 and was buried in Canada on Saturday.

Despite a somewhat short archive of works, he is renowned as one of Canada’s most important writers, as recounted in memorial articles and reviews of his works.

That collection includes fewer than two dozen short stories and one full-length novel, “No Great Mischief,” which was in the works for more than a decade but won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2001.

The inspiration for those stories came from MacLeod’s diverse background, which included summer work mining and logging, as well as the tales of those he met, usually at pubs or taverns.

“He could get anybody to talk,” Mary Downs, a long-time friend, recalled of MacLeod.

She said he would draw upon the stories of others for his own inspiration.

“You can tell he was constantly thinking about characters as he talked with people,” she said.

Downs and her late husband, Mike, who would go on to teach at IPFW for more than 30 years, and MacLeod arrived in 1966 in Fort Wayne after they finished school at Notre Dame.

The trio became close enough that the Downses asked MacLeod to be godfather to their son Andy, who is director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics and an associate professor at IPFW.

MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan, but many of his stories were located in the far Canadian Northeast or involved people whose lives depended on the sea.

His works, “Island: The Complete Stories,” “The Lost Salt Gift of Blood” and “No Great Mischief” are available at local libraries.

His first published work, a short story titled “The Boat,” was published in 1968 while he was in Fort Wayne in The Massachusetts Review and the following year in “The Best American Short Stories 1969.”

John Brennan, who taught in the English department from 1967 to 2007 and alongside MacLeod for the last two years of his career in Fort Wayne, remembered him as someone who was very much his own person and enjoyed the students and staff much more than he did the higher-ups on campus.

“He hated faculty meetings with something approaching a passion,” Brennan said.

Although MacLeod is best remembered for his writing, Brennan recalls his determination to see as many Komets games as possible and his visits to local taverns to engage anyone he could in conversation.

“He loved to put stories in his basket,” Brennan said, adding that MacLeod was a great teller of stories and anecdotes he heard.

Brennan said he thought MacLeod was drawn to writing as a way to reconstruct not only his personal past, but also his family’s lineage and Celtic background.

Downs echoed that sentiment and said writing was something that came naturally to MacLeod and was something he “just kind of slid into.”

All those stories and his full-length novel were written without the use of a computer or typewriter, Brennan said.

“Al would not even write on a typewriter. He wrote pen and paper and it was more like somebody engraving in stone,” he recalled.

Despite teaching at IPFW for only three years, he had a lasting effect on his students, many of whom Brennan said remember MacLeod with “great fondness and pride.”

At his death, MacLeod was emeritus professor of English at the University of Windsor, where he had taught for more than three decades.

Brennan kept in touch with MacLeod up to the early 2000s, and like so many others whose connections drift apart, always thought he should write his friend to reconnect.

“He deserves recognition … aside from his writing. He was a great person,” Downs said.

Brennan planned to pay homage Saturday evening in a way which he knew MacLeod would approve – with a glass of single-malt Scotch.