What can I tell you about Stan Dragland? I’ve been thinking about him non-stop this week, since he passed away — too soon, on August 2nd.
I met Stan first at Banff, in 2009, where he was a program mentor (although not mine) and I liked him immediately. How could you not like Stan? He was quiet and kind with a razor-sharp mind and a killer wit. As my husband George has said, Stan did not fear silence, and when he did speak, what he said was always just right.
In 2012, Stan agreed to act as editor on my first book, How to Get Along with Women, a collection of stories. The book was published by Invisible, then quite small, and I’m sure he took… um, let’s say a reduced rate, as a kind of favour to me. We worked on the stories intensely – he sent me notes on one story a day, for twelve days. I only had twelve stories total; I was just learning to write them. They were all going in the book. The book was nominated for the Giller prize, and frankly, that changed my fortunes as a fiction writer.
Later that same year, I moved to St. John’s and got to hang out with Stan and his partner, Beth, in real life, alongside many other fine writers. He was fixture in our house, at our freeform dinner parties. He was a pleasure to host. The room quietened when he spoke.
In 2014, he sang at our wedding, along with our friend Holly. In combing my files last week, looking at old photographs, I also found the mp4 of their song. What a gift.
In the years after that, as our arts community faltered around misconduct cases that had moved into the public sphere, Stan did not falter. One night, I found myself in our kitchen at the end of a party, late, with two writers, both men. George had gone off to make sure the kids were in bed, I think. One of the men, with a few drinks in him, started to give me a pointed lecture on a case we were all concerned with: how the accusations could not be believed, how one must presume the man in question innocent. “We know he didn’t do it,” he said. This was years ago, and I was already exhausted by that time, which tells me now how very long I have found these conversations tiring.
I had a lot of things to say, in response, but somehow I could not say them. It was late. We were supposed to be friends. His tone had changed, just enough. We know he didn’t do it.
But the other man in the kitchen that night was Stan, and he didn’t freeze. He stepped in for me, shutting the conversation down simply, as was his way. “Do we?” he said. “Do we know that? Because we know that men do these things.”
The room quietened. There was no arguing back. I didn’t have to say anything at all, or do any of that work.
I was so grateful that I wrote to him sometime later, months later in fact, to tell him how much it meant to me. I think no man outside of my husband has stood up for me like that before or since, to another man, in that kind of social situation. (Certainly, my own father would not have.) Stan replied to my email in his usual way, quietly, humbly.
“I’m very glad I chanced to say something heartening,” he wrote. “I don’t always speak up when I disagree with what’s being said, not unless I feel strongly about it. I’m ashamed of what too many men get up to.”
I didn’t get a chance to see much of Stan in the last few years. With the pandemic limiting our movement, and with our priority being the big blended family we are blessed to enjoy, we haven’t seen many people who are important to us.
I miss him.