JRC is a man-of-letters. He has written, compiled, and translated more books than any other serious Canadian author. More than 200 titles of his books have been published between 1960 and mid-2010. In addition, he has edited or co-written about the same number of books for Toronto-based publishers during the same period that appeared under the names of other Canadians (some of them household names).
He is a poet of note and his poetry has appeared in many standard anthologies and magazines, including Atlantic Monthly. He is designated an honourary member of the League of Canadian Poets. The National Film Board of Canada released a short film that brilliantly animates two of his poems.He is an occasional contributor of reviews and articles to Graphis International, Le Devoir, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, National Post, Literary Review of Canada, as well as to many magazines and specialist publications. He has been a guest on innumerable radio and television programs and was a weekly guest on CBC Radio’s Morningside. He hosted two television series, Colombo Quotes, and Unexplained Canada.
He is a specialist in a number of cultural areas. He has been called “the Master Gatherer” for his compilations of Canadiana; John “Bartlett” Colombo for his dictionaries of Canadian quotations; “Canadas Mr. Mystery” for his books on the supernatural and the paranormal; “Superfan” for his ground-breaking compilations and studies in the field of Canadas fantastic literature. He was designated an honourary member of the Friends of the Merril Collection, the world-class research library of fantastic literature, a special collection of the Toronto Public Library.
Among his Ontario-based books are Ghost Stories of Ontario, Mysteries of Ontario, Haunted Toronto, and The Toronto Puzzle Book. Yet most of his collections deal with the country as a whole and sound a note that is “pan-Canadian.”
He has taught at Glendon College and Atkinson College, York University, Downsview, Ontario, which awarded him is an honourary D.Litt. He has also taught at Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario, where he became the country’s first writer-in-residence in a community college.
He has advised at various times in the past the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, North York Arts Council, Canadian Scene (a news service for the ethnic media), and Humber Colleges Presidents Committee.
A little-known fact is that he is one of the best-known Canadian authors in Bulgaria; with the late Nicola Roussanoff, he compiled and co-translated five books of Bulgarian history and literature, one of them, The Balkan Range, being on recommended reading lists. A book of his selected poems was translated and published in Romania.
He is a regular contributor of reviews and commentaries of books and events relevant to “consciousness studies” to the website of Lighthouse Editions of Cambridge, England.He worked unpaid as managing editor of The Tamarack Review for twenty years, when it was regarded as the countrys ranking literary quarterly.
His compilation Colombo’s Canadian Quotations is the “unacknowledged source” of much popular Canadian lore and expression. The book is responsible for the designation of Yonge Street as “the longest designated street in the world.”
He established literary readings at the Bohemian Embassy, a now-legendary Toronto institution, and organized the first literary readings at Harbourfront, the foundation of its famous International Festival of Authors and Weekly Reading Series.
JRC describes himself as “the country’s most quoted author … only nobody quotes me … they quote other peoples quotations from my books.” (For instance, his first “quote book” is responsible for the popularity of Pierre Bertons quip: “A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe.”)
Peter C. Newman wrote in an unsolicited letter to JRC, “In a very real way you have become the guardian of perpetuating the Canadian psyche in a fascinating and readable fashion.” SF author Spider Robinson wrote in The Globe and Mail: “John Robert Colombo is a national treasure.”
From time to time I am asked to identify my favourite literary and editorial undertakings. I enjoy doing so because I love the work. I will now describe seven projects that have yielded particular (as well as unanticipated) pleasures.
1. Much of my life I have been writing poems, so it is as a poet that I see myself in my heart of hearts. After years of public activity on that front – founding venues for presentations, establishing outlets for publications – I withdrew from the poetry and literary scenes to concentrate my time and energy on writing what I wanted to write. I take pride in the three, double-columned volumes that comprise The Poems of John Robert Colombo issued by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box in 2005 and reprinted in 2006. The tomes consist of some 3,000 poems composed between the late 1950s and the early 2000s. A parallel project has been the publication of The Aphorisms of John Robert Colombo, as well as the production of annual poetry collections, an activity that I initiated in 1996. Each volume now includes the previous year’s “Dream Diary.” I have never suffered “writer’s block,” but in the past, until I took this remedial measure, I did suffer “publisher’s block.”
2. As a long-time reader of “fantastic literature” (my omnibus term for science fiction, fantasy fiction, and weird fiction), I was thrilled to have the opportunity to compile what I like to call “the world’s first anthology of Canadian fantastic literature.” The anthology (in a field distinguished for its anthologies) is called Other Canadas and it traces the history of highly imaginative reconfigurations of the land and its people from Cyrano de Bergerac’s crash-landing in New France to what I dubbed “the national disaster scenario,” one of four characteristics of the country’s heritage of fantastic writing. I went on to co-edit (with librarian friend Michael Richardson) the world’s first anthology of Canadian horror fiction called Not to Be Taken at Night, and then Years of Light, the so-far sole book-length study of Canadian SF fandom, focusing as it does on the life and work of Leslie A. Croutch of Parry Sound, Ontario.
3. The imaginative legacy of the Native Peoples has long been of concern to me, partly because of its indigenous, autochtonous, aboriginal, and shamanistic dimensions. I was able to publish six poular collections in this field which focuse on Inuit and Indian lyrics, Native folklore, and ground-breaking scholary studies of the Windigo and the Shaking Tent. These publications attracted some popular but hardy any scholarly interest, at least until the present, for they have proven to be quite influential are now being examined closely. I am quite pleased that I have had the opportunity to produce The Native Series which consists of a uniform edition of these six titles as trade paperbacks with new material.
4. I take pride in the fact that I single-handedly (for a while at least) put what I call “mysteries” on the map of Canada. I am overstating my contribution, yet with the appearance of Mysterious Canada, I have been able to survey the contributions of Canadians to the world of psychical and paranormal events and experiences. Some of these contributions are known around the world (though over the years the Canadian connections have become frayed). With the first book I quickly realized the “evidence” for the reality of psychical phenomena comes from personal accounts, which I dubbed “memorates,” and that these make compelling reading. Since then I have published, mainly through my own imprint but also through commercial houses, three dozen collections of “memorates.” The field is an interesting one but its perennial fascination is that it leads to no proofs — no firm conclusions, as William James the psychologist and psychical researcher realized after labouring for twenty years in this field.
5. Since the 1960s I have watched out for references to biographical or bibliographical studies on the life and work of Denis Saurat, the Anglo-French litterateur who had a special interest in occultism and its influence on literature, especially what he called “philosophical poetry.” No study ever appeared, so I researched, wrote, edited, and published three such books: O Rare Denis Saurat, The Denis Saurat Reader, and Early Earth. I have always felt that Saurat (a private passion) was a professor whose writings in a number of fields are well worth knowing about, but are so little known for a number of valid reasons, one of them being the vendetta between him and Charles de Gaulle. I was lucky I began work when I did – at the eleventh hour – because I was able to meet the author’s son Harold Saurat in Paris and he assisted me immensely, making my work his work as well, as both of us were eager to preserve what we could of his father’s contribution, memory, and reputation. Harold died soon after the publication of Early Earth, which consists of the texts of Saurat’s contemplations on the prehistory of the Earth and the Moon, books of fascinating speculation (which I have dubbed “speculative non-fiction”).
6. Establishing the Colombo & Company imprint with my wife Ruth proved a turning point in my career because it offered me the opportunity to research what I wanted with an assurance that the result, if non-commercial in nature, would be published speedily if not profitably. Yet it proved to be somewaht commercial, so the operation has not been “vanity” publishing, a term I will use from time to time, though the term I prefer is “sanity” publishing. In ten years I produced some eighty titles in the unique QuasiBook format – cerlox-bound celluloid covers for instant printed pages — and while their appearances hardly inspired positive thoughts, they served their purposes, as they could be produced and printed quickly without any capitalization to speak of. Before long, with the advent and availability of print-on-demand technology, I was soon issuing the first post-QuasiBook titles: End Notes and Footloose.
7. I will mention, if only in passing, despite all the books that I have produced, that I am known to most readers as “the Canadian Bartlett,” as I compiled Colombo’s Canadian Quotations, the first of seven (so far) collections of “important or interesting” quotations by Canadians about all subjects or by other people on Canada. I take pride in collecting these “trifles” “against the fall of night,” so to speak, as I regard each and every one of them as a “treasure.” My “quote books” bear the motto (taken from a turn-of-the-last century publication): “Canada only needs to be known in order to be great.” Through this work I became known as “a Master Gatherer.”
March 2008 – November 2010