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Books Atwood chooses to be Giller Prize juror rather than contestant

Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan and Jonathan Lethem are the judges for the Giller Prize.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Canadian author and leading literary ambassador Margaret Atwood would sooner be judge than contestant for the 20th anniversary of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, having withdrawn her upcoming novel from competition in order to serve her fourth stint on the Giller jury.

Atwood's upcoming Maddaddam, the last novel of a futuristic trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake, is scheduled to be published this September. But it will not be among the 150 books that she and her fellow jurors are scheduled to read before then, according to Giller Prize executive director Elana Rabinovitch. Atwood's role on the jury "means the book will not be eligible for this year's prize," Rabinovitch confirmed.

Atwood, a long-time member of the Giller advisory board, has presided on the jury three times previously. She won the award once, in 1996, for Alias Grace. The author was "very excited" about serving a fourth time for the award's 20th anniversary, according to Rabinovitch. "I think she understood it was very important to us and she wanted to be of help."

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Joining Atwood on the three-person jury this year will be Esi Edugyan, winner of the 2011 Giller for Half-Blood Blues, and U.S. author Jonathan Lethem, best known for his 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn.

For the first time since 2008, the Giller jury includes two Canadians, departing from the recent practice of appointing one Canadian and two foreign writers. "We thought it was important for the 20th anniversary that we have two Canadian jurors," Rabinovitch said.

Prize organizers hope to stage a number of new initiatives to mark the anniversary, including a "community-building event," according to Rabinovitch. "Giving back to the community is something that has become very important to us," she said. "We don't want to just have the gala that's available to the people in the room. We want to extend events surrounding it, celebrating the authors and celebrating the fact it's the 20th year, and make that available for as many people as possible."

With a $50,000 prize awaiting its winner, the Giller is one of the richest awards in Canadian literature and by far the most widely publicized, resulting in certain sales success for winners. This year's short list of five finalists will be announced in October, followed by a black-tie gala in Toronto on Nov. 5, when the 2013 winner will be named.

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