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Author Miriam Toews is photographed at her home in Toronto. (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)
Author Miriam Toews is photographed at her home in Toronto. (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)

Giller Prize unveils long list, doubles purse Add to ...

The Scotiabank Giller Prize unveiled its long list on Tuesday, along with the unexpected news that its purse has doubled, immediately vaulting the literary award to among the richest in the English language.

Beginning this year, the winner of the Giller Prize will receive $100,000, while the finalists will each take home $10,000.

“I think the idea here is not to make the prize look better, but to help writers,” said Jack Rabinovitch, the prize’s founder, on the phone from Montreal, where the nominees were announced. When the prize was first awarded in 1994, the winner received $25,000 while finalists walked away with $5,000. “If you had talked to me fifteen years ago, I would never have believed it would come to this.”

Mr. Rabinovitch said prize sponsor Scotiabank “thought we had missed an opportunity at the 20th anniversary” – which took place last year – “so they figured 21 is just as good. They always wanted to do something significant.”

This is sure to be welcome news to the twelve writers on the long list, an intriguing mix of established names and up-and-coming authors, none of whom have won the prize before. And for those missing from the list – including some surprising omissions – word of the increase might mean their absence stings a bit more than previous years.

“I just hope that it’s received as a very gracious gesture,” said Mr. Rabinovitch. “It’s to help Canadian writers do their work in whatever proper surroundings they require.”

David Bezmozgis, a finalist for his last novel, The Free World, returns to the long list with his highly-praised second novel, The Betrayers. Miriam Toews, whose bestselling novel A Complicated Kindness was a finalist in 2004, is nominated for All My Puny Sorrows, her searing semi-autobiographical novel about sisterhood and depression. Two-time nominee Shani Mootoo (she made the shortlist in 1997 and the long list in 2009) finds herself nominated yet again, this time for Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab, an exploration of family and gender. Claire Holden Rothman, whose last novel, The Heart Specialist, earned a spot on the long list in 2009, is nominated for My October, a family drama set in turn-of-the-millennium Montreal. Essayist and author Rivka Galchen is nominated for her second book, American Innovations, one of only two short story collections on the long list. (Galchen and Bezmozgis were the only two Canadians named to The New Yorker’s list of the 20 best writers under the age of 40 in 2010.) The other story collection, Paradise and Elsewhere by the veteran British-Canadian author Kathy Page, is published by Biblioasis, one of three books released by an independent press to make the cut. The other two, Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man and Jennifer LoveGrove’s Watch How We Walk, are both published by ECW Press, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Rounding out the long list are Sean Michaels for his debut novel, Us Conductors; Frances Itani for Tell, a semi-sequel to her award-winning 2003 novel Deafening; Heather O’Neill, a previous winner of CBC’s Canada Reads, for The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, about teenage twins living in the shadow of their famous father; and The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan, which takes place in the shadow of the bombing of Air India Flight 182.

This year’s jury consists of the American writer and critic Francine Prose, British novelist Justin Cartwright and Shauna Singh Baldwin, a Canadian author based in Milwaukee who was a finalist for the award in 2004. They considered 161 books submitted by 63 publishers from across the country before deciding on the long list, which, despite its merits, is missing more than a few notable names, including Margaret Atwood, whose new short story collection Stone Mattress is garnering some of her strongest reviews in recent years. Michael Crummey’s novel Sweetland, about an elderly man who refuses to leave his Newfoundland home, went unrecognized by the jury, as did Tom Rachman’s decade-hopping The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, about a woman investigating her peculiar childhood, and Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist, a page-turning fictionalization of the life of Harry Houdini and the man who killed him. Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music, set among the rascals and rogues of late 19th century San Francisco, failed to make the list, as did Quartet for the End of Time, Johanna Skibsrud’s first novel since winning the Giller Prize for The Sentimentalists. Forthcoming novels from Ann-Marie MacDonald (Adult Onset) and Dionne Brand (Love Enough) were left off the list, as was Leaving Tomorrow, the latest offering from former winner David Bergen.

The shortlist will be unveiled on October 6, while the winner will be announced on November 10.

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