The Scotiabank Giller Prize, celebrating its 20th anniversary, did something Monday that it had never done before: It left Toronto for Vancouver to announce its long list, so it could also mark the 50th anniversary of the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia.
There was, however, an absence of B.C. authors on the list.
“I did realize that and I had a moment [thinking] ‘oh my God,’” said Victoria-based Giller juror Esi Edugyan, after presenting the long list. “But you know, I think we really had a feeling that you can’t go into a book prize looking to fill certain parameters; you know we need an equal amount of women and an equal amount of men. You just have to choose the best books.”
Among the 13 who did make it: Wayne Grady, from Ontario, whose name appears on the list twice. The prolific non-fiction writer is nominated for his debut novel, Emancipation Day. Louis Hamelin’s October crisis novel, October 1970 – translated by Grady – is also on the list.
Joseph Boyden, (born in Toronto and now splitting his time between Northern Ontario and Louisiana) who won the Giller in 2008 for Through Black Spruce, is nominated for The Orenda, set in the 17th century in what would become Ontario. Toronto-based Craig Davidson is longlisted for his novel Cataract City. German-born Dan Vyleta, is nominated for his post-Second World War novel The Crooked Maid.
Edmonton-based author Lynn Coady, shortlisted for the Giller two years ago, made the long list for her short story collection Hellgoing. How To Get Along With Women, the first book by St. John’s-based Elisabeth de Mariaffi, was the other short story collection to make the list.
Toronto author David Gilmour – whose novel A Perfect Night to Go to China won the Governor General’s Award in 2005 – is longlisted for his assisted-suicide novel Extraordinary. Dennis Bock, also based in Toronto, is nominated for his third novel, Going Home Again, about two brothers who reunite in adulthood. Claire Messud is nominated for her sixth novel The Woman Upstairs. Messud – who is American but grew up partly in Toronto – sparked much debate in literary circles this year when she balked at an interviewer’s question about her (female) protagonist’s likeability.
The East Coast was represented well with Wayne Johnston – who has made it to two previous Giller short lists – is nominated for The Son of a Certain Woman, set in 1950s St. John’s. Fellow Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore – whose first novel Alligator was shortlisted for the Giller in 2005 – is on the long list for her third novel Caught. Another Newfoundland author, Michael Winter, is on the long list for his novel Minister Without Portfolio. He was on the Giller long list in 2007 for The Architects are Here.
Of the dearth of B.C. authors on the list, Steven Galloway – who, as acting chair of the Creative Writing program at UBC acted as event M.C. – said he wasn’t concerned.
“It’s a national prize. B.C.’s certainly got to be confident enough of its weight in the literary world that we don’t need to be everywhere all the time,” said Galloway, whose novel The Cellist of Sarajevo was longlisted for the Giller in 2008.
Both Galloway and Annabel Lyon, a former Giller finalist for her novel The Golden Mean, pointed out that five of the authors on the list have a connection to the UBC program, either as faculty (current or former) or alumni.
“I’m thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. Purely selfishly from a UBC Creative Writing standpoint, we’re super well represented on the list,” said Lyon, an assistant professor with the program, she was instrumental in bringing the announcement out to Vancouver.
The 13 titles were selected by jurors Edugyan (who won the Giller in 2011 for Half Blood Blues), Margaret Atwood and U.S. author Jonathan Lethem – from 147 submissions.
“It was a lot of reading and at points you felt like your eyes were bleeding,” said Edugyan. “But it was a real pleasure. I really got a sense of the landscape of Canadian literature. And ... the long list could easily have been longer; there were just so many wonderful books published this year.”
The shortlist for the $50,000 prize will be announced on Oct. 8 and the winner on Nov. 5 – both at events in Toronto.