Giller Prize

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is awarded to the author of a Canadian novel or short story collection published in English during the past year.  A longlist is announced, usually in mid-September, followed by a shortlist in early October.  The prize is awarded in November of each year.

KevinfromCanada introduced me to this prize in 2008, and I had then read only Atwood’s Alias Grace, the winner in 1996.  In early 2009, KFC invited me to be the international judge on the Giller Prize Shadow Jury, a wonderful opportunity for me to read all of the shortlist and vote on a winner a few days before the Real Giller Prize Jury announced theirs.  I’m pleased to say that that year both the Shadow Giller Jury and the Real Giller Jury picked Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man as the winner!  (Here are my reviews of the shortlist and a few novels that didn’t make it but we thought might.)

I participated again in 2010, reading the entire shortlist and a number of longlisted titles.  That year, the Shadow Giller selected Alexander MacLeod’s short story collection Light Lifting as the winner, though my second choice was the eventual Real Giller Prize winner, Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists.

I have been invited to sit on the 2011 Shadow Jury as well, so here’s to an excellent year for Canadian fiction!

Click here for the Giller Prize’s official site.

Click here for a list of past winners of the Giller Prize.

7 thoughts on “Giller Prize”

  1. The 2009 Giller Prize jury was announced today:
    — Russell Banks, a New York based author with 16 works of fiction and a lot of high-end magazine work to his credit. Trevor: I recognize the name but have read none of his books. Do you know anything about him?
    — Victoria Glendenning, British biographer and novelist. Also a journalist — I’ve been impressed with the novels I’ve read.
    — Alastair MacLeod, Canadian short-story writer, novelist (No Great Mischief, his only novel, won the IMPAC) and icon (you can put him up with Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood in that category).

    I’ve left a post on the Man Booker site about this, trying to set a fox into the henhouse. While they are choosing “populist” juries from English bingo-callers and critics, this Canadian prize has recruited three international writers with equally international reputations. While it might be argued that writers jurying writers has its own set of problems, one does wonder what credentials TV commentators bring to the table.

  2. Trevor says:

    I too know Russell Banks only by the name. I’ll do some looking though because it seems the name was in the context of good things.

    By the way, did you see this article about what is happening to Canadian Lit? I’m interested in your thoughts and think that your presence in the blogosphere and the Man Booker site is a good thing!

  3. I hadn’t seen this article, so thanks for the link. I do have some background.

    First on the National Post (known in our household as The Pest). It is the right-wing national newspaper, founded by Conrad Black before he went to jail in Florida (he is an old boss of mine), which never lets the facts get in the way of its anti-government, anti-liberal, anti-academy, indeed anti-Canada bias. If you go back to the article, you actually get a good illustration of this — note how the headline says “grant culture and sands of time deserve some blame” when in fact the only reference to grants is in a rhetorical question that Marchand uses to set up his argument. The Pest loathes all things Canadian and thinks we are a disgraceful nation — they loved (and still love) George W. Bush and are very in step with his politics. (Sidenote: W is making his first post-presidential appearance in Calgary tomorrow — not only have I not been invited, I know security even for an ex-president will make downtown impassable.)

    Marchand is also interesting. He was an okay critic for the Toronto Star (it’s the country’s largest circulation newspaper but very Torontocentric — the joke in the industry is that the Star headline for the sinking of the Titanic was “City woman misses boat in Southhampton”. Just to complete the Canadian joke, the Globe headline was “Lloyd’s suffers major losses” and the Telegram (Toronto’s version of the New York Post) “Stewards demand sex before lifeboats”. Ah, my old trade.)

    Sorry for the digression. Marchand took the buyout last year (the Star was somewhat ahead of the curve in seeing and experiencing the decline in the newspaper industry) to “write books” and freelance. He was always mainly plugged in to a very Toronto view of Canadian publishing and this piece reflects it — e.g. almost everyone else regarded the Giller win of the Bergen book as a jury disaster. I hated it.

    Marchand, in his desire to feed the Pest’s anti-academy virus, neglects a number of things. For example, while the piece implies Morley Callaghan was known and beloved by all Canadians, in fact he was virtually unknown in his home country, even while being celebrated by Edmund Wilson. Canadian literature was so “disrespected” by the academic world (to borrow a Tony Soprano term) that the course on the Canadian novel that I took in 1971 was the very first ever offered at the University of Calgary (and this was only the second year that it was offered). My professor, who had Callaghan, Hugh MacLennan and Sinclair Ross on the reading list, told us that we would be the first in generations to read any of them.

    Given all that, 53 per cent knowing a Canadian author seems like a pretty good number — my guess would have been under 35 per cent. Given that only 61 per cent know the name of the country’s first Prime Minister and also only 61 per cent know the date of Confederation (link to this fascinating data is
    that number is actually quite high. (Check out the survey — the argument is that we know more about American politics than our own history.) Also, take the Canada quiz on their home page — I suspect you’ll do better than the vast majority of Canadians. I did get 10 out of 10; I predict you’ll come up with 6 or better.

    For what it is worth, I’d say Canadian fiction and publishing is in better shape than it has been in my adult lifetime. That still doesn’t mean it is very healthy. Guys like Marchand (and even me some days) resent the rise of Chapters and Indigo (our Barnes and Nobles and Borders — our government won’t let them set up stores here because we have to protect our culture from you dreadful Americans) and, as someone who likes independent bookstore owners, there are days when I agree with them. On the other hand, when I go into any Chapters store at any time of day, I see more people looking at books than I would see in three months of bookstore visits 10 years ago. They may be buying J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, but at least they are buying books. And some of them, at least, are buying Canadian books.

    End of rant. Obviously, that book is still not attractive. The good one is that Sheila advises another one that I have been looking forward to has arrived while I have been doing this. Now I have a book I want to read. Bye for now.

  4. Trevor says:

    Kevin, I’ve been looking up titles by Russell Banks, and they look really good. Here is a blurb for Sweet Hereafter which might hold some clue as to why he’s on the Giller committee if much of his fiction takes place close to Canada and that is an important enough fact to mention in the blurb. I’m interested in the lawyerly aspect, though I don’t see myself ever becoming a litigator.

    Atom Egoyan’s Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter is a good movie, remarkably faithful to the spirit of Russell Banks’s novel of the same name, but Banks’s book is twice as good. With the cool logic of accreting snowflakes, his prose builds a world–a small U.S. town near Canada–and peoples it with four vivid, sensitive souls linked by a school-bus tragedy: the bus driver; the widowed Vietnam vet who was driving behind the bus, waving at his kids, when it went off the road; the perpetually peeved negligence lawyer who tries to shape the victims’ heartaches into a winning case; and the beauty-queen cheerleader crippled by the crash, whose testimony will determine everyone’s fate.

    That was only one of the titles that looked appealing. Could be a promising batch of titles.

  5. Trevor says:

    I know the year has (kind of) just begun, Kevin, but do you see any strong contenders for this year’s Giller?

    Also, I bookmooched Russell Banks’s Sweet Hereafter yesterday, so I might have a better sense of his style soon.

  6. Lee Monks says:

    If only writers as good as Russell Banks were running the rule over all book awards!

  7. Guy Savage says:

    Russell Banks is one of my favourite modern American writers. The Sweet Hereafter is excellent, and his short story collections are also highly recommended

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