West Coast newcomers Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan continued their parallel paths to literary glory on Tuesday when both were named to the short list for the $25,000 Governor-General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction, the fourth major literary prize for which the pair has qualified as finalists this fall.
The authors of The Sisters Brothers (deWitt) and Half Blood Blues (Edugyan) joined three other novelists on the Governor-General’s short list. In addition to the three Canadian awards for which they have been nominated – first the Rogers Writers’ Trust prize, then the Giller Prize, now the Governor-General’s Award – deWitt and Edugyan are also competing against one another and four British novelists for this year’s $80,000 Man Booker Prize.
The Booker will be awarded next Tuesday in London, with bookmakers currently favouring Julian Barnes, author of The Sense of an Ending, who has been nominated three times since 1984 but has yet to win – and who once famously denounced the competition as “posh bingo.” The three Canadian prizes are scheduled to be awarded on three consecutive Tuesdays in November, beginning with the Writers’ Trust prize Nov. 1.
DeWitt and Edugyan joined three other novelists on the Governor-General’s short list yesterday – not including veteran novelist and prize-winner Michael Ondaatje, whose current Giller-nominated novel, The Cat’s Table, was not one of the 1,684 works submitted for the massive awards program, which distributes $450,000 annually to a broad category of books in both official languages.
The Cat’s Table was not submitted “at the author’s request,” according to McClelland and Stewart publisher Ellen Seligman.
In an e-mail, Ondaatje explained: “This was done as I have received it many times and felt I should not enter a book again. The G-G Award has been very important to me and I greatly respect it and what it has done for our literature.”
Veteran author Alice Munro likewise withdrew her most recent collection of stories from competition for the 2009 Giller Prize, offering a similar reason.
With veterans receding, the jury that selected the G-G short list made room for such newcomers as David Bezmozgis, whose first novel, The Free World, was nominated along with those of deWitt and Edugyan as a finalist for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, demonstrating a rare convergence of opinion among literary tastemakers this season.
Last year, the three Canadian juries named 13 different books to their combined short lists of 15. This year, the combined short lists of 16 books includes only 10 different volumes.
Joining the Giller-nominated three on the G-G list is another first-time novelist, Alexi Zentner, who was listed for Touch, a Gothic tale of the north woods. The only truly familiar name on the G-G list, which like the other prize programs is heavily tilted in favour of emerging writers, is Marina Endicott, nominated for The Little Shadows, her fourth novel.
Two familiar faces do appear on the short list of non-fiction books nominated for a Governor-General’s Award: Charles Foran of Peterborough, Ont., author of Mordecai: The Life and Times, which won the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction earlier this year and is nominated for the inaugural Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction; and Toronto’s Richard Gwyn, whose Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times Vol. 2 is also nominated for the Weston Prize.
They are competing against three other nominees for the non-fiction prize: Andrew Nikiforuk of Calgary, author of Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests; Nathan M. Greenfield of Ottawa, nominated for The Damned: The Canadians at the Battle of Hong Kong and the POW Experience, 1941-45; and J.J. Lee of New Westminster, B.C., for The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit.
Although the various fiction lists tell a story of convergence when taken together, the G-G list in itself is notable for its variety, according to novelist Peter Oliva of Calgary, one of three judges who read 148 books submitted for this year’s English-language fiction prize.
“I’m hard-pressed to find one common thing in that list of books except greatness,” Oliva said in an interview.
“I think of these literary awards almost as horse races,” he added. “These novels are just fine animals, and I think you’re going to see some surprising finishes.”
Although Oliva denied the existence of any conspiracy to favour deWitt and Edugyan, he did question the remarkably high level of performance achieved by all the finalists.
“I think we should definitely have all these writers tested for steroids,” Oliva said.