Crad Kilodney (1948-2014)

Crad Kilodney, (in)famous Canadian fiction writer and street-bookseller, died yesterday. I know Crad’s work, and I know stories about Crad, but I never knew him personally and never made direct contact with him.

Like many of my generation (I suspect), I first encountered his name in Stuart Ross’s Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. While describing his own adventures selling self-published books on the streets of Toronto, Ross invoked Crad: “Crad Kilodney, the grandfather of literary street vendors, got me into this. During his 15 years on a the street, he sold 35,000 books of his demented fiction, making him one of Canada’s top-selling literary writers. A misanthrope to begin with, he became increasingly bitter and angry over those years” (34).

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News that Crad was unwell spread over the past few months, and some that knew him well began posting short memoirs of Crad. Stuart Ross and Jay MillAr posted two that were particularly thoughtful and honest about Crad’s influence and legacy. [Update: There is now a new post by Lorette C. Luzajic who was with Crad at the end. Lorette is responsible for The Crad Kilodney Literary Foundation and has written on him in two of her books.]

In December, a story was posted on Crad’s website, announced on his Facebook page with the following note: “”Thank you to all my readers, old and new, for your support. This is the last piece I will publish in my lifetime.” The story, “Dreaming With Kay”, is touching and sad and deeply moving.

I am in the process of planning my dissertation chapters. When all is said and done, Crad will make an appearance in chapter five. It is very possible that Crad would have disapproved of this. I can’t find the passage at the moment, but somewhere in one of his books on my shelf Crad wonders if someday an academic will attempt to make a name for him or herself off of his work, while he suffers and dies in poverty. This is a contradiction I will confront when I arrive at it.

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What I do know is that Crad did something remarkable standing on the street with his books and with his placards. His critical gesture was emphatically public. For close to two decades he subsisted on a minuscule income garnered from selling a handful of his own books each day. In Putrid Scum, one of his two novels based on his street-bookselling experiences, he writes, “The whole premise of standing on the street was to be accessible to anyone who was interested, and to find my readers one at a time by letting them find me” (148). There is an openness and generosity and courage embodied in this, even though the experience itself often gave way to bitterness and frustration. In Excrement, the other novel about his experiences, he describes standing with his books in public, “bodily before a passing population of nitwits, illiterates, snobs, degenerates, mental cases, stiffs, creeps, assholes, phones, scumbags, cheapskates, and self-styled critics [understanding] my true position in the world, as well as the inconsequentiality of the poor little bundle of wood pulp into which [I had] poured all that I was humanly capable of!” (44).

The small press in Canada is richer for Crad Kilodney’s contributions to it.

Update: Moments after posting this, The Crad Kilodney Literary Foundation was launched.

Kilodney

 

Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto

“This American and Canadian literature course, with its minimal attention to Canadian literature, remained on the [University of Toronto] English curriculum for thirty years until finally, in 1954, Robert McDougall convinced the department to offer a full course in Canadian literature. In spite of McDougall’s efforts, however, the course was open only to students not majoring in English.” (164)

King, Sarah D. “An Uncomfortable Match: Canadian Literature and English Departments in Canada, 1919-1965.” Diss. University of Western Ontario, 2003.