Esi Edugyan got this one. After a whirlwind literary awards season that has seen numerous shortlist nominations for the Victoria author, Ms. Edugyan has taken home the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Canada’s most lauded award for literature was given out at a ceremony in Toronto on Monday night, where the prize jury announced Ms. Edugyan’s win for her acclaimed novel Washington Black.
“In a climate in which so many forms of truth-telling are under siege, this feels like a wonderful and important celebration of words,” Ms. Edugyan said in her short acceptance speech.
“I felt like I was taking a risk in doing something very different. People kept asking if I was going to do more about jazz or World War II [along the lines of Half Blood Blues],” she said after her win. “So I feel maybe I’m ready to write about anything – that it’s okay to be able to go out there and choose any topic and write about it.”
This marks the second time Ms. Edugyan has won the Giller, after taking the 2011 prize for her novel Half Blood Blues. She is only the third author to win the Giller twice after M.G. Vassanji (in 1994 and 2003) and Alice Munro (1998 and 2004) and the first to win for consecutive novels.
Earlier this year, Ms. Edugyan was shortlisted for the Writers' Trust fiction prize and the Man Booker Prize in Britain (which Half Blood Blues was also shortlisted for) but came up just short. She is also a finalist for the Carnegie medal for fiction awarded by the American Library Association, which will be announced in January.
Published by Patrick Crean Editions at HarperCollins Canada, Ms. Edugyan’s novel tells the historical, coming-of-age tale of George Washington Black, a boy born into slavery on a plantation in Barbados who goes on to much more in the world. Earlier this year, she told The Globe of the writing process: “Some of the details were just horrifying. Some of the research was really difficult to do. But I really thought in order to write about this man, you have to see where he’s coming from, you have to deal with the details of his childhood. What it would have looked like to be a slave on a day-to-day basis, living out your life in these conditions. I didn’t want to flinch away from that.”
Ms. Edugyan beat out a field that included a debut novelist in Thea Lim (An Ocean of Minutes), a Quebec book in translation by Eric Dupont and translator Peter McCambridge (Songs for the Cold of Heart), a first-time nominee in the autobiographical novelist Sheila Heti (Motherhood) and a two-time finalist in Patrick deWitt (French Exit). Each finalist receives $10,000.
The Giller longlist included two short-story collections (Paige Cooper’s debut, Zolitude, and Lisa Moore’s Something for Everyone), Emma Hooper’s second novel, Our Homesick Songs, debut efforts by authors Tanya Tagaq (Split Tooth) and Joshua Whitehead (Jonny Appleseed) and new novels from Quebec’s Kim Thuy (Vi) and Rawi Hage (Beirut Hellfire Society).
The Giller Prize shortlist was selected by a jury composed of Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and past nominee Heather O’Neill, who read 104 titles in selecting the longlist in September, the shortlist early last month and – finally – the winner.
Asked how she would spend her $100,000 prize, Ms. Edugyan said she would take care of some household debt, help out her older father and “take time to write.”
Ms. Edugyan said she had been working on a new story. But about 20 pages in, her computer went on the fritz; she hadn’t backed it up. But she will return to that material. “I have an idea in mind.”