I grew up in a suburb far from the literary stronghold of the GTA. We did not have a plethora of indie bookstores to browse on a Saturday afternoon, or a quiet weekday evening. We were not a must-visit destination for the vast majority of authors looking to hawk their wares in new venues. When I was a kid, at least, we did not have what you would call a lively literary scene. What we had was Arnie McCallum.
Arnie McCallum was an author of a great many picture books, who for many years tirelessly toured county schools reading his poems and sharing his stories. I was reminded of his positive influence on the community when I heard the sad news of his recent passing.
I think I was in the fourth or fifth grade when McCallum came to visit my class. This was a time before home Internet was a necessity of modern life. Before every kid over the age of ten had an iPhone and access to practically limitless information at their fingertips. Before social media became ubiquitous and used to broadcast everything from author appearances to cat memes.
In those days, I knew nothing about authors that I couldn’t find in their author bios. The concept of seeing one in the wild, so to speak, was foreign to me. Bookish as I was, writers were from another time and place, entirely removed from my day-to-day life.
McCallum was the first author I’d ever met. I’m pretty sure his was the first autograph I’d ever received. He was a literary luminary in my eyes, and for a book lover obsessed with reading, it was positively breathtaking to me that someone from around here had succeeded in adopting that most impressive of professions—that of a writer. His visit to my class was the first time I realized that books didn’t just happen, that authors weren’t just people from far-off galaxies like “New York” and “London”. It was, perhaps, the first time I realized that literature could be local, that a future reading and writing books ways kinda, sorta, maybe possible.
So cheers to Arnie McCallum, a local legend, but also an inspiration—to myself and to many.
Thanks for stopping by for my musings of a bookish childhood. I’d be interested to hear about your own literary experiences as a kid that may have influenced you as a reader or writer.