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MAYS, John Bentley 1941(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1941, in Louisiana; son of John B. (a plantation owner) and Anne (Smith) Mays; married Margaret Cannon (a writer and columnist); children: Erin. Education: Attended University of Rochester, 1967-68. Religion: Anglican. Hobbies and other interests: Rooftop gardening, architecture, the music of Richard Wagner.

ADDRESSES: Office—Calumet College, York University, 4700 Keele St., North York, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada. Agent—Jan Whitford, Westwood Creative Artists, 94 Harboard St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1G6, Canada.

CAREER: York University, Calumet College, North York, Ontario, Canada, teacher, beginning 1971.

MEMBER: International PEN, Toronto Wagner Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Canadian National Newspaper Award, 1983, for criticism; Canadian National Magazine Awards Foundation, gold medal for science and medicine reporting, silver medal for personal journalism, and president's medal for best article to appear in a Canadian periodical, all 1993, for the article "In the Jaws of the Black Dogs," and gold medal for critical writing, 1995, for the article "Night and Day: David Urban"; prize from Toronto Historical Board, 1994, for Emerald City: Toronto Visited; award for talking book of the year, nonfiction category, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, 1995, for In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression.


The Spiral Stair, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

Emerald City: Toronto Visited, Vintage (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, Vintage/Penguin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

Arrivals: Stories from the History of Ontario, Penguin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Visual arts critic and columnist, Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980—; cultural critic-at-large for newspapers. Contributing editor, Open Letter, 1975-80.

SIDELIGHTS: John Bentley Mays, a longtime resident of Toronto, is an American whose recent books have dealt with the themes of place, person, and roots. A man of wide interests, Mays has taught at Calumet College in York University and is a visual arts critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

In Emerald City: Toronto Visited, Mays collected and extended seventy-four essays originally written as newspaper columns. Reviewer Brian Fawcett, in Books in Canada, said that, with this book, Mays had invented a new literary genre, "somewhere between urban travel writing and criticism." The essays consider abandoned industrial parks, rooftop gardens, rundown alleyways, buried waterways, and the imprint glaciers have left on the land, among other things. In the Canadian Book Review Annual, Steve Pitt commented that the book is "a fine guide for people who have a hard time seeing the city for the buildings." Lisa Schmidt declared in Quill and Quire that Emerald City transforms Toronto "into an old friend one comes to know again, after a separation of many years."

In 1993 Mays wrote a candid magazine article about his experience with depression. The large number of responses from readers prompted him to write In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression. According to Quill and Quire contributor Martha Harron, the title comes from Winston Churchill's characterization of the depression which hounded him as "the black dog." Mays interweaves excerpts from thirty years worth of journal entries and contemporary reflections on his life at the time of the entries. He traces his feelings of numbness and isolation, the hallmarks of depression, to his father's death when he was six and his mother's when he was eleven. Seeing, as Mays described in his book, his mother at the end, lying "in a stench of cancerous rot," he found her death so shocking that he felt no sorrow.

Much of In the Jaws of the Black Dogs describes Mays' various therapies. He notes his different attempts to cure his depression, and his final discovery of Prozac. At first, Mays thinks it banishes his depression, but later he realizes that for him, its effects are less than absolute. His continuing struggle with the disease makes him wary of therapists who enthusiastically promote Prozac as the answer, and Mays is critical of writers who suggest that depression is a sign of moral decay. Scott McKeen of the Edmonton Journal Online quoted Mays as saying that at the end, "a certain way of negotiating one's way through and around depression is possible; but that is all."

Mays' long residence in Toronto was interrupted when his elderly aunt Vandalia died in Louisiana, passing on to him his memorabilia-and memory-filled childhood home. Once there, Mays decided to rediscover his southern roots. The book resulting from this quest, Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family, traces his American—but not necessarily "southern"—lineage back to 1609 when an Anglican minister named William Mays arrived at Chesapeake Bay. Mays' searches took him to Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where he found significance in tombstone epitaphs and family snapshots. Of Mays' writing, Phyllis Grosskurth, in Books in Canada, said, "He has often opened my eyes . . . I look forward to his views on many things."



Mays, John Bentley, In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, Vintage/Penguin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.


Books in Canada, November, 1994, Brian Fawcett, review of Emerald City: Toronto Visited, pp. 42-43; September, 1995, Phyllis Grosskurth, review of Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family, pp. 28-30; March, 2003, Clara Thomas, review of Arrivals: Stories from the History of Ontario, pp. 13-14.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1994, Steve Pitt, review of Emerald City.

Maclean's, October 23, 1995, p. 69.

Quill and Quire, January, 1995, Lisa Schmidt, review of Emerald City, p. 31; September, 1995, Martha Harron, review of In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression, p. 63.


Bookpage, (January 26, 1998).

Edmonton Journal Online, (January 26, 1998), Scott McKeen, review of In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression.*

Mays, John Bentley 1941(?)-

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