Fresh from winning the $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his collection
of short stories, Siege 13, former underdog author Tamas Dobozy of Waterloo has emerged as the surprise favourite to win the Govenor-General’s Literary Award for fiction when it is announced on Tuesday.
And he did it by ignoring every rule in the publishing bible – giving up his agent and abandoning the novel he was struggling to write, deciding instead to return to his first love, writing stories, all the while knowing the multinational publishing house that was keen to publish the novel had no interest in more stories.
“One day I realized, you know, this is not what I want to do, and if I end up losing my publisher as a result, so be it,” Dobozy said from his office at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont, where he teaches English literature. “That was really the start of Siege 13, that moment.”
After being rejected by half a dozen publishers, Siege 13 eventually found a place at Toronto independent Thomas Allen & Sons. In the meantime, Dobozy looked to small literary magazines for support.
“The only people who kept me going were the journal publishers who accepted my stories during those years,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them I might have quit. They gave me the confidence and the will to go on by publishing my work.”
Soon the the award juries piled on. “Siege 13 spans continents and decades, and in doing so illustrates once again that old maxim: The short story can be both as broad and as deep as a novel,” the Writers’ Trust jury said in its citation. “These stories are never less than breathtaking.”
Born in Nanaimo, Dobozy won the first Fulbright Research Chair in Creative Writing at New York University in 2009 and was awarded an O. Henry Prize two years later for his story The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kallman Once Lived, which appears in Siege 13. Another of the stories, The Encirclement, appeared in the prestigious British magazine Granta.
With his persistent focus on Hungarian themes and settings, Dobozy typifies the new generation of writers stretching Canadian literature into a distinctly cosmopolitan enterprise. “Home is an odd concept” for someone like him, Dobozy once told an interviewer, “because I never felt as if I fit very well into either country – Hungary or Canada.”
Siege 13 prevailed over novels by authors Alix Ohlin, Linda Spalding, Rawi Hage and Tim Bowling to win this year’s prize at a ceremony in Toronto last Wednesday evening.
The group also honoured Ontario novelist Nino Ricci with the $25,000 Engel/Findley Award, presented annually for a body of work. The $20,000 Matt Cohen Award “in celebration of a writing life” went to children’s writer Jean Little, while Paul Yee won the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature. Alex Pugsley won the group’s $10,000 Journey Prize for best Canadian short story of the year.