David Godfrey

Fine Arts

- John Threlfall

An award-winning author, a publishing visionary, a pioneer in on-campus computing and an early writing department chair-David Godfrey was all this and so much more. The Department of Writing is saddened to announce the passing of this former professor at the age of 77.

The winner of the Governor General's Award in 1970 for his novel The New Ancestors, Dave Godfrey was also the co-founder of iconic Canadian publisher House of Anansi, as well as the New Press and was the editor of Press Porc&e#180;pic-which became the publishing house The Porcupine's Quill. Chair of the writing department from 1977-1982, Godfrey retired in 1998 to operate the 60-acre Godfrey-Brownell Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley.

"I was an admirer of Dave Godfrey's writing long before I joined him in the Department of Writing," notes retired writing professor Jack Hodgins. "His great novel The New Ancestors seemed to be opening up something new in Canadian fiction. That he had attended both the famous Iowa State and Stanford writing programs made him a valuable colleague in a writing program. I was impressed, too, that he had been one of those Ontario writers-like Matt Cohen and several others-who were creating a new Canadian literature for our generation. Somehow he made me feel welcome to join him in this enterprise."

Writing professor Joan MacLeod had Godfrey as a professor when she was an undergrad back in the 1970s. "He had a strong reputation not only for his editorial skills but also his fiction. He co-taught the fiction workshop I was in, where I started a novel that eventually became my MFA thesis," she recalls. "He was incredibly good to me and incredibly supportive. He made me feel like I had a voice."

Lorna Crozier remembers Godfrey as being "generous, sharp and excited about ideas and young people. He was a central figure in the Canadian renaissance, in our belief that our own stories have value. We need more of his kind now."

Godfrey's legacy lives on in the three publishing houses he helped create. House of Anansi Press was founded in 1967 by Godfrey and writer Dennis Lee as a small press with a mandate to publish Canadian writers. House of Anansi still thrives today, as does the New Press and The Porcupine's Quill.

Godfrey was also at the cutting edge of the cultural side of computer technology, arguing that decentralized data and computer communication were extremely important for art and literature. In 1979, he co-edited Gutenberg Two, focusing on the social and political meaning of computer technology, and co-wrote The Telidon Book, about electronic publishing and video text. He also founded a software development company called Softwords-which eventually grew to a staff of 22 with annual sales of about $1 million.

"Dave helped hold the department together not long after its difficult birth," recalls former departmental colleague Derk Wynand. "He also played a huge role in bringing us into the 20th-and perhaps 21st-century, with his expertise in computers and business."

"He was ahead of his time," agrees Crozier. "He was into computers at the start, before any of us dreamed of giving up our pens and booklets, and he insisted that the department get on board. He was also a proponent of the co-op program because he was that rare thing-a businessman as well as a writer."

Retired Humanities, Fine Arts and Professional Writing Co-op Coordinator Don Bailey recalls Godfrey as "the founding chair" of the writing co-op. "He was very committed to introducing students with a flair for writing-and some digital competencies-into careers in the communications, publishing, journalism and tech sectors. He was somewhat of a visionary in this regard."


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Keywords: in memoriam, writing

People: David Godfrey

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