Lawrence Hill has been asked several times over the years if he would serve on the jury of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, arguably the country's most prestigious literary award. He's declined each time, citing conflicts – he was working on a book of his own, or was about to publish a new novel, or he simply didn't have time to read, and debate, the merits of approximately 150 works of fiction, and likely more. Last year, when he was approached, he finally said yes.
"It's a way of saying I care about CanLit and I'm prepared to spend nine months reading a truckload of Canadian literature," says Hill. "I take it very seriously, and I want to honour Canadian literature by reading it closely and really giving it my best judgment."
Hill will chair this year's Giller Prize jury, which was revealed on Tuesday, and which, for the second consecutive year, features five writers.
In addition to Hill, the bestselling author of The Book of Negroes, which was longlisted for the prize in 2007, and 2015's The Illegal, the jury includes Regina-based cultural journalist and critic Jeet Heer, currently a senior editor at the New Republic, and Montreal's Kathleen Winter, whose novel Annabel was a finalist for the prize in 2010.
As with recent years, this year's jury has an international contingent: The award-winning Scottish writer Alan Warner, probably best known for his 1995 novel Morvern Callar, and English author Samantha Harvey, author of a trio of critically acclaimed novels including, most recently, 2014's Dear Thief.
"Going from three to five, I think, was the right move and, I think, one that will continue into the future," says Elana Rabinovitch, the prize's executive director. "The deliberations take a little bit longer, but it's twice as much fun and it's twice as energetic."
This year's longlist will be revealed Sept. 6, the shortlist will be announced on Sept. 26, and the winner of the $100,000 prize will be announced on Nov. 8. Last year's Giller Prize went to André Alexis for Fifteen Dogs; the novel has been a mainstay on Canadian bestseller lists ever since.
Hill, for his part, hasn't started the reading process; publishers, who are allowed to enter three titles, per imprint, were likely waiting for the identities of the jurors to be revealed before deciding which books to submit.
"I'm sure there's a strategy involved on the part of publishers," he says. "If they can only submit three, they have to figure out which three are most likely to [appeal to the jury]. And that, of course, is a guessing game."