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Jacob Scheier’s first rule of awards controversies: don’t talk about awards controversies

Governor General’s Literary Award–winning poet Jacob Scheier has weighed in on the Ali Smith/Giller Prize controversy on Now Magazine‘s website. As you may recall, Scheier himself was at the centre of an awards scandal after winning the GG in 2008, when it was discovered that jurors Di Brandt and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco had clear ties to both him and his collection, More to Keep Us Warm.

I [want] to draw a significant parallel between that controversy and this year’s Giller uproar, a parallel that holds true for many, if not every, literary award controversy.

What happens in these ‘controversies’ is the mainstream media jumps on conflict, regardless of the facts (or lack thereof), and stamps the words  ‘scandal’ in a big bold writing. They use these words, of course, to get us to read about it. If they could, with any legitimacy, add the word ‘sex’ to the headline, they would.

But I don’t blame media outlets for that. I blame the fiction writers and poets, the ones who fuel these dust-ups, by writing their speculations on their blogs and Facebook pages for the media to pick up.


I would urge all writers when they hear the siren sizzle of juicy gossip to stay off Facebook and blogs, and, if you have to, put that gossip where it belongs: into a good story.

  • angel guerra

    What nonsense. Most jurors are biased. It’s the nature of prizes to invite bias. The fix is always in. I don’t know how you avoid it. Some suggest five jurors instead of three but others rule it out as too costly. Maybe things would be more interesting if three jurors pick the long list and three other jurors choose the finalists and select a winner. I like the rumour and innuendo that surrounds prizes. Is it crass for writers to level accusations at fellow writers? No doubt. But it can’t be helped. These are matters of importance to the writing set. The only private life a writer has is in a jury room. Nobody really knows what these writer/jurorts are conniving about in there. The history of writing shows that writers can’t be trusted. Outside the jury room everything else is a public playground. If a writer is sitting at home, among friends, or in the Sheraton bar after the Giller and speaks their mind then chances are good it’ll make the social network in no time. If Jacob Scheier wants to plug his finger in the dam of rampant speculation, he’s welcome to it. Then maybe we won’t have to contend with the bland poetry he seems intent on writing.

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