Alumna plays critical role in Canadian culture

Special to Western News

Don’t tell Kate Taylor that “Nickelback sucks.” Prove it.

That was the challenge the Globe and Mail cultural columnist and film critic set down for her 8-year-old son to explain why he thinks the oft-maligned Canadian band isn’t up to rock ‘n’ roll standards.

“They can’t just suck, I told him,” Taylor, MA’85 (Journalism), explained. “I urged him to provide more reasons for his opinion. So he told me about their cliché lyrics or predictable music and I was like, ‘Yes! Thank you!’”

For a quarter century, Taylor has been providing pointed cultural and cinematic commentary for the nation’s largest newspaper. From her early days in the Big Smoke’s theatre scene to last week’s Academy Awards, it’s a responsibility she relishes and a role she traces its root back to Western.

Rewind the film back to Kate Taylor’s early years, she seemed destined to find a career in arts journalism. Her parents not only exposed her to museums, galleries and theatre at a young age, but she soon found a passion for writing that hasn’t left her.

In a recent interview at the Globe & Mail offices on Toronto’s King Street East, Taylor discussed those formative years inspiring her to dip her toes into journalism. In Ottawa, where she grew up, Taylor wrote theatre reviews for her high school newspaper “which got me interested in arts journalism and how to write effectively.”

When she took art history at the University of Toronto, she soon grew frustrated with how the courses were being taught. “The curriculum was focused on stylistic trends. I was more interested in the social context: Why do we make art?”

After a gap year traveling in Belgium, Taylor enrolled in Western’s Journalism program. “It was great in preparing young journalists for the real world. So when we graduated, I could be hired by a newspaper or broadcaster and hit the ground running right away,” Taylor recalled.

After stints at the London Free Press and the Hamilton Spectator, she was hired by the Globe & Mail to manage a new pagination system introduced in the late 80s. In 1991, she applied for an arts reporter position and has been immersed in theatre, film and Canadian culture ever since.

Many Globe readers first got acquainted with Taylor’s writing when she reviewed theatre for eight years. She quickly appreciated the vitality of Toronto’s local theatre scene, remarking how venues such as Tarragon and Factory theatres gave opportunities to regional playwrights and thus “were more alive than productions that focused only on the classics.”

She shifted positions to become the Globe’s movie critic three years ago, and has reviewed around 150 films a year, while filing columns on arts and cultural issues affecting Canadians. Based in Toronto, Taylor is also a successful novelist, with three books under her belt.

She reflected on how reviewing film was quite different than reviewing theatre. “When I watch plays, I realized I’m highly sensitive to pace and that’s carried over into reviewing film, where I might think, ‘This second act is dragging on too long.’”

When she reviews anything, “I try to remember I’m writing for an audience, not just myself. Or for the push for a social consensus on a film.”

She adds that a film festival like TIFF or Cannes can create in critics the need to say if this or that film is worth consumer dollars or will skyrocket into box-office glory. Taylor shirks those obligations to instead stay committed to critiquing what made the film worthwhile or a successful piece of art.

Taylor is the author of three novels: Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, A Man in Uniform and Serial Monogamy.  Her fictional book on Proust’s mother won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book (Canada/Caribbean region) and the Toronto Book Award. A Man in Uniform was nominated for the Ontario Library
Association’s Evergreen Award and won Kingston Reads: The Battle of the Books.

What she finds rewarding about novel-writing is how “different muscles are being exercised and it’s a worthwhile hobby to pursue even though the literary life can be precarious.”

Taylor surrounds herself with writers, and not just with her colleagues at the Globe. Her husband is a professional marketing writer, her brother-in- law is a novelist and several other family members are academic writers.

At the Globe, Taylor has found a home where she feels respected while also honouring those that came before her. “Here, I am always surrounded by colleagues who are pushing for excellence and I feel that the institution has a high journalistic standard to maintain. That was something that immediately struck me about the paper when I arrived in 1989.”