John Bentley Mays is an award-winning Toronto writer on contemporary architecture and visual art, and the author of several books.


Born into an old family of cotton planters, small-town merchants and local politicians in the American South, Mays came to Toronto in 1969 to teach in the humanities division of York University. He became a writer on a new year’s resolution, 1 January 1973. While learning the craft, he worked for several years on York’s student services staff. His novel The Spiral Stair was published in 1978, and was followed by numerous short fictions that appeared in journals across Canada.

In 1980, he was hired to be art critic of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, a position he held until 1998, While he was at The Globe, Mays wrote his first non-fiction book, Emerald City: Toronto Visited, a harvest of columns about local architecture and urbanism. He was cultural correspondent at large for the National Post from 1998 until 2001.

Since leaving the Post, he has worked as a freelance journalist and, occasionally, as an exhibitions curator and teacher of university-level courses about architecture. He has written catalogue essays about the art of Giuseppe Penone, Peter von Tiesenhausen, Ed Zelenak and Benjamin Klein. He now writes a weekly column about residential architecture for The Globe and Mail, and occasionally contributes articles on art and design to Azure, Canadian Architect, Canadian Art, Canadian Interiors, International Architecture and Design, KingWest and other periodicals.

Of Mays’ books, two have been national best-sellers: In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression and Power in the Blood: Land, Memory and a Southern Family. Mays’ libretto for the opera Zürich 1916, with a score by composer Christopher Butterfield--an extended meditation on the Dada phenomenon--was the main-stage production of the Banff Summer Festival in 1998.

Mays has lectured on art, design and religion in Vancouver, Banff, Winnipeg, London, Toronto, Montreal and elsewhere. Among his recent teaching assignments: a course on suburbia at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, and, at the University of Toronto, lecture series and seminars on the architecture of Mies van der Rohe and a survey of modern architectural criticism and theory.

The prizes Mays has won for writing include the National Newspaper Award for criticism, the Joseph Brant award of the Ontario Historical Society (for Arrivals: Stories from the History of Ontario), and the National Magazine Award Foundation’s President’s Medal, Canada’s top award for magazine journalism. He has received writing grants from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

In addition to architecture and art, classical and modern music and Christian theology, spirituality and history are among Mays’ interests. He is a member of St. Thomas More Catholic Church and the husband, since 1971, of Margaret Cannon, who has been the mystery books columnist of The Globe and Mail for the last 30 years.