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Photos: Inside the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala

Authors, publishers, former winners, and society-page regulars came together on Nov. 5 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and to fete this year’s winner, Lynn Coady.

Click on the thumbnails to see who was there.


Lynn Coady’s Giller win puts Anansi in winner’s circle

After being nominated 13 times over the past two decades, House of Anansi Press has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the first time. Edmonton author Lynn Coady, whose 2011 novel The Antagonist was also shortlisted for the prestigious award, takes home this year’s Giller for her darkly comic short-story collection Hellgoing.

Coady, who described the win as “incredibly validating,” is chuffed to be the author who broke the so-called Anansi curse. “It’s one of Canada’s last great independent publishers and they do such great work, so I’m thrilled they’re going to be sharing in this award,” she said.

Anansi president and publisher Sarah MacLachlan praised Coady, saying “she combines all the great things you look for in a writer, so I’m really thrilled that she’s been honoured.” She added that the win was also “a little bittersweet,” since Anansi author Lisa Moore had also been nominated for her novel Caught. (Moore has now been shortlisted for the Giller three times.)

Coady was awarded with a $50,000 cheque at a gala in Toronto on Tuesday evening. The Nova Scotia–born author and journalist’s sixth book captures the emotional and moral complexities of a series of relationships, from a couple exploring S&M to a memoirist at a writers’ retreat.

In a starred Q&Q review, Alex Good wrote, “A sharp, insightful writer with a tight, jarring style that makes use of fast narrative cuts, Coady deliberately leaves the human scribble tangled. This isn’t out of a desire to play coy, but rather an admission that problems involving relationships don’t have easy resolutions that can be clearly expressed.”

Hellgoing is the only story collection to appear on the 2013 Giller shortlist and the first to win since Vincent Lam took home the prize in 2006 for Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. Coady noted that with the Nobel Prize being awarded to Alice Munro, the form has received renewed acclaim of late. However, her decision to publish a collection was in large part pragmatic. “After the Giller nomination in 2011, I felt, ‘You’ve got to get a book out there, you’ve got to capitalize on that momentum,’” she said. “I actually had writers’ block, and I felt really stuck and like there was no next novel in me.”

Published under Anansi’s short-fiction imprint, Astoria, Hellgoing is comprised of new and old work, with previously published stories dating as far back as 2001. While the book does not yet have a U.S. publisher, Coady joked that the situation might change soon.

Following the Giller win, Anansi ordered a 50,000-copy reprint of Hellgoing. “We’ve [already] gone back to print three times, so that’s good. It’s selling very well,” said MacLachlan.

For her part, Coady does not have immediate plans to write another novel. The author is currently enrolled in a television writing program at the Canadian Film Centre, with an aim to apply her skills to that form.

“Television is such an incredibly rich and novelistic landscape right now,” she said. “I think in some ways our culture has a knee-jerk, dismissive attitude towards writing for TV as a genre, but it’s an incredibly rigorous genre, and it’s a lot of work to create solid, formulaic television. We say that word ‘formulaic’ with derision, but we shouldn’t, because it’s a very difficult craft to master.”

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Q&A: Tom Sandler, photographer to the literary stars

Tonight, while all eyes are on the five Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists, Toronto photographer Tom Sandler will be planning his next shot.

Since the inaugural Giller Prize gala in 1994, Sandler has been documenting the night’s wins, losses, and candid moments. In addition to his Giller duties and other society-page gigs, Sandler is photographer for the Honorable Hilary Weston, the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and members of the royal family.

Sandler spoke to Q&Q about his experiences shooting 20 years of the Giller Prize.

Margaret Atwood and Giller founder Jack Rabinovitch, 1998 (photo: Tom Sandler)

How did you get your start shooting the major literary prizes? I spent 10 years as official photographer for Harbourfront at the very beginning of the authors’ festival with director Greg Gatenby. That’s really where I got started with all my clients and most of the things I do now. It opened up so many worlds. I wasn’t the greatest student in school, but the education that I’ve received – you can’t put a value on it.

How would you describe the early days of the Giller? They were really intimate – it was a family kind of situation. It’s much bigger now and there are more players now that television is involved. They tend to almost run the show, as it all has to be done according to the broadcast schedule.

Giller winner Alice Munro with jurors Peter Gzowski and Margaret Atwood, 1998 (photo: Tom Sandler)

How do you approach an event? I really document everything. I see myself not just as a guy taking photographs or as paparazzo, but as an archivist with a real mission to document the cultural and social life of the city. I am on a mission. You have to cover the event for whomever your client is, where you shoot everything from the napkins to core shots of the room. And there’s shooting for the media. But I also purposely take photos because I think they’re historic.

Giller winners Austin Clarke (2002) and Vincent Lam (2006) (photo: Tom Sandler)

I take it really seriously. I have an enormous archive that’s well organized, but it takes a lot of time to pull stuff. Half of it is on film or negatives. For each Giller, I used to shoot eight to 10 rolls of film. Now it’s 700 to 1,200 digital shots.

Research is a really good thing to do, but then you have to stay open for the spontaneous moments that happen. Margaret Atwood tortures me because, inevitably, I don’t have my camera up to my face ready to fire, but she’ll walk in, see me, and do a little dance or put her finger on her head and twirl like a ballerina, and I don’t get the shot.

Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding (photo: Tom Sandler)

Who else did you develop a rapport with over the years? I’ve developed relationships with incredible people like Tim Findley, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, and Morley Callaghan. Austin Clarke is a terrific friend.

I’m always teasing people like Michael Ondaatje. He’s a great guy, but he thinks that I can only take one picture of him, and then says, “That’s enough.” He doesn’t realize that he could look like a real dork or his eyes could be closed. A lot of times he’s just not ready for the shot, so I use my favourite line on him saying, “Michael, if someone asked you to write a book with one word, could you do that?” And he knows I’ve got him beat.

Mordecai Richler, 1994 (photo: Tom Sandler)

Mordecai Richler was an amazing person to shoot and talk to and be with. I have some really great shots of him. Sometimes you just know photos are very valuable – they might not work right then and there, but at some point they will surface.

 This interview has been edited and condensed.


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Recapping the Giller Prize shortlist

Need some help with your Giller Prize betting pool?

Click on the thumbnails to read what Q&Q reviewers had to say about this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists.



The Giller Prize story: an oral history, part four

Alice Munro poses with the Giller Prize, 1998 (photo: Tom Sandler)

In the fourth post of a four-part oral history, Q&Q speaks to Scotiabank Giller Prize insiders about the award’s first 20 years. For the full story, see Q&Q’s November issue, on newsstands now.

According to BookNet Canada, sales for Will Ferguson’s 2012 Giller-winning novel, 419, increased by 900 per cent in the three weeks following the announcement. This annual sales bump has been dubbed “the Giller effect.”

Douglas Gibson, former McClelland & Stewart publisher and long-time editor of Alice Munro: M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets came out in spring 1994. We printed an optimistic 5,000 copies. It got very good reviews, but by the time of the Giller nominations, it had run its course. The book was starting to be returned. Then the nomination and nothing happens; the book continues to be returned. M&S chairman Avie Bennett and I had a very worried discussion about what to do. The idea of reprinting this book was totally outlandish, except that this was the first year of the prize, and we realized that if there was going to be what later came to be called “the Giller effect,” we had a role to play.

We couldn’t risk not reprinting because that would have ensured that the prize would fall flat, so we reprinted lots of copies. If it did win, we could flood the market and make it a best-selling success.

When the book won, the reaction wasn’t joy, delight, or exaltation; it was relief. We sold out that reprint and another reprint.

Vincent Lam, winner, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (2006): There were lots of opportunities that did not come to me before: foreign sales contracts, invitations to international festivals, and a television adaptation. I do wish that the prize was able to spread the benefits more widely. I’d love to see the shortlist sold as a box set or even a book-of-the-month club so that, over the course of a year, you would get the winner and all the longlisted books.

Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher of House of Anansi Press, which has published 13 shortlisted titles: From my perspective, the win is getting on the shortlist. We’ve had great success with books that have been shortlisted. Choosing the winner is just a crapshoot. The jury has decided that these five or six books are the books they’re going to choose from. That’s what I tell my writers: enjoy this period. The focus is on all five of you, and you’re going to receive a lot more attention. I think it’s overwhelming for a lot of authors, especially for first-time novelists.

John Gould, finalist, Kilter: 55 Fictions (2003): I don’t know how my book would have done if it hadn’t been nominated. It had almost no reviews. It suddenly got reviews in the major newspapers. It got published in the U.S., which would not likely have happened otherwise. I still continue to find that the book has life. It’s hard to imagine what else could have happened to give it that access.

David Adams Richards, winner for Mercy Among the Children (2000); juror (2001): I’m sure my book sold more than it would have if it hadn’t won the Giller. It was on the bestsellers list in Canada, and it sold pretty well around the world.

Zsuzsi Gartner, finalist, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (2011): As a result of being nominated for the Giller, I was invited to three international literary festivals. In all three cases, festival directors contacted me because they saw the book on the list. As a result, I went to Beijing and Cork, Ireland, and, just this past March, I went to Adelaide, Australia. We have a little joke around the house: I call it my one little book, three-continent tour.

Gould: Now, it’s more likely that people will ask, “Why are you not writing?” rather than “Why are you writing?” Psychologically, that’s different. From the point of view of an author, it’s a big gift.

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The Giller Prize story: an oral history, part three

Giller winner Austin Clarke (2002) at the 2012 gala (photo: Tom Sandler)

In the third post of a four-part oral history, Q&Q speaks to Scotiabank Giller Prize insiders about the award’s first 20 years. For the full story, see Q&Q’s November issue, on newsstands now.

From 1994 to 2005, each jury picked a shortlist of up to six titles. In 2006, a longlist of up to 15 titles was introduced. What hasn’t changed is the variety of reactions from Giller-nominated authors and publishers.

John Gould, finalist, Kilter: 55 Fictions (2003): I was just starting out as a teacher at the University of Victoria, which took a great deal of concentration. I was up until 3 a.m. prepping, and my wife came and shook me awake. She had been getting calls for an hour. I didn’t even know that the Giller shortlist was coming out that day – it was nowhere in my consciousness.

It seems to me that the whole thing was more dramatic back when it went straight to the shortlist. When I was nominated, no one knew who I was, I was published by a small press [Turnstone Press], and writing in a weird form. For that kind of book to show up on a shortlist beside Atwood and Ann-Marie MacDonald – all big books, big publishers – there was more drama.

Vincent Lam, winner, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (2006): I heard the news I was longlisted via voicemail, but they didn’t get my name right – it was addressed to a different writer. I’m sure it was just an intern calling. I didn’t have the prize on my radar at all, so I just thought, “That’s nice for someone else.”

Zsuzsi Gartner, finalist, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (2011): I feel like it was overdramatic. My husband, son, and I were gathered around my laptop as the names were coming up. Jian Ghomeshi was blabbing and blabbing, and about every half minute a name came up. My name popped up and we could hardly believe it. I just started screaming and jumping up and down.

Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher of House of Anansi Press, which has published 13 shortlisted titles: We wait to see if we get on the longlist, and we wait again to see if we get on the shortlist, which inevitably seems to happen when a bunch of us are at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We sit in meetings looking at our Twitter feed, or waiting for an email. We used to wait for a phone call. One year, when two Anansi books were on the list, I let out a whoop, which silenced the whole room. That was embarrassing.

The envelope, please…

Douglas Gibson, former McClelland & Stewart publisher and long-time editor of Alice Munro: McClelland & Stewart books were very well represented among the early winners. That’s a diplomatic way of putting it. There were some years, in fact, where we had so many nominees that, at the Giller dinner, it was a case of divided loyalty and superhuman diplomacy.

Lam: It really was a shocker. I think someone nudged me. Later, I found out that [Random House of Canada president and CEO] Brad Martin had prearranged 50,000 copies to be reprinted on his go-ahead. Between the time I stood up and got to the stage, Brad had placed a call to the printer.

Patrick Crean, publisher of Giller winners Esi Edugyan and Austin Clarke: Before Austin Clarke won in 2002, he said to the table, “There shall be no tears at this table.” He was very wise, but he was the only grounded person there. I remember I could hardly breathe. The effect is so intense. You can go into these things trying to practice Zen detachment but it really gets under your skin.

Lam: I got pickpocketed the night I won. I think it was at the scrum afterward. You’re making your way through the crowd, and everyone’s pawing you and giving you hugs. I didn’t know about it until the next morning, when I got a call from my credit card company asking if I had tried to buy electronics online the night before.

From the pickpocket’s point of view, it’s brilliant. Who is the most distracted person in the room? It’s clearly the person who won the prize, and clearly their publisher will render them into a state of not being able to look after their credit card.

I say this as a public service announcement: whoever is shortlisted, I recommend you leave your wallet at home.

Although the Giller shortlist is often dominated by major publishing houses, independent presses have made their mark.

Crean: The Giller Prize was proving itself in the early stages. It began to go around the A- list: Atwood, Munro, Richler, Ondaatje, David Adams Richards. After practically everybody in CanLit had won it, then surprises began to happen.

MacLachlan: Anansi is an expert at being nominated – I believe it’s 11 times now – and never winning. But all the years have brought a special buzz. First novels that get nominated are always a thrill. You’ve decided to get behind a book, and when you see people validate the decision, it’s exciting.

Gould: I felt, and Turnstone felt, that despite my book being in a slightly unusual form, it was accessible and there should be a strong readership for it. But how do you connect with that readership considering it’s a small press with limited resources?  The Giller nomination made it more likely that people could find it.

In 2010, Johanna Skibsrud won for her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, making her the youngest winner in the award’s history. Booksellers scrambled to get the book, a challenge considering Skibsrud’s publisher, Gaspereau Press, could only print a maximum of 1,000 copies per week. Although Gaspereau co-publisher Andrew Steeves initially refused offers from larger publishing houses to help out, he eventually sold trade-paperback rights to Vancouver’s D&M Publishers.

Jack Rabinovitch, Giller Prize founder: As I said then, the problem was that Gaspereau thought they were printers. They forgot that their job was to help sell books. It’s nothing against them, but people mislead themselves as to what their roles are. I don’t think it had any implications for the prize, but I think it made everyone in the book business realize that a publisher has a responsibility beyond printing the book.

Michael Enright, CBC Radio host and juror (2010): I have always been interested in smaller presses because I don’t think they get fair consideration, but I was determined not to let that affect me as a judge. In the end, it was very strange – there were no Simon & Schusters or Random Houses on the shortlist. It was just a fluke.

Our job was to pick the book that we thought was the best, and I couldn’t care less about sales or availability. Gaspereau is a quality press, and there would be some way of getting the book into the hands of readers. That has nothing to do with quality. That’s a marketing problem; let the marketers deal with it.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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The Giller Prize story: an oral history, part two

Winners Michael Ondaatje and David Adams Richards, 2000 (photo: Tom Sandler)

In the second post of a four-part oral history, Q&Q speaks to Scotiabank Giller Prize insiders about the award’s first 20 years. For the full story, see Q&Q’s November issue, on newsstands soon.

CBC Television began regularly broadcasting the gala in 1999, transforming the award into a watercooler event for even those outside the literary community.

Jack Rabinovitch, Giller Prize founder: The concept has always been to help people buy or read the books – that’s what any author wants. When we got on television, the whole objective was to help promote the books. And it worked, because a lot of people now determine their Christmas reading list from the Giller shortlist.

Patrick Crean, publisher of Giller winners Esi Edugyan and Austin Clarke: With respect to all three awards, the Writers’ Trust is more of a writers’ prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award is more a patriotic prize, and the Giller is obviously a readers’ prize.

Sarah MacLachlan, president and publisher of House of Anansi Press, which has published 13 shortlisted titles: In the early days, it was more of an event with a television camera there. Now, the production is really quite television-centric. It’s a little less loose. When you have cameras everywhere it ramps up the tension.

Vincent Lam, winner, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (2006): I didn’t expect the event to be so well-produced. Around the room, there’s this phalanx of people with headsets, and they are in charge of keeping their eyes on people. During the commercial breaks, it becomes a mosh pit. Everyone starts glad-handing everyone else and, invariably, all the wranglers have to get everyone to sit back down.

From the beginning, the identity of each three-member jury has been made public. In 2008, international authors and critics were added to the mix. “We tried our very hardest to select jurors who were as objective as you could be within the Canadian literary scene,” says Rabinovitch. “We soon found out that you can’t always have Canadian authors on the jury, you need somebody from outside to bring new insights into the situation.”

Douglas Gibson, former McClelland & Stewart publisher and long-time editor of Alice Munro: Alice Munro agreed to be a Giller juror in 2006 when she had a new book of stories. I said, “Alice, for god’s sake, you put yourself out of the running. Why didn’t you consult me on this?” And she laughed happily and said, “Because I knew what you’d say.”

Rabinovitch: Mordecai worked as a judge for the first two years, which he never forgave me for. It takes up a lot of time. I think it’s a mixed blessing to be asked to be a Giller juror. We recompense the jurors quite handsomely, but that doesn’t pay for the time. This year’s jury read 147 books – that’s a hell of a lot of books.

Jane Urquhart, finalist, The Stone Carvers (2001); two-time juror (1995, 2000): Being asked to be a juror was tremendously exciting because the award was so young and I was still early enough in my career that the presence of someone like Mordecai Richler seemed terribly intimidating. In the final analysis, it wasn’t that way at all. He was gracious and funny. It was very close to Quebec referendum time, and we were meeting in Montreal, in public places, after Mordecai had published Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! If you wanted to silence a room at that time, just walk in with him. I thought, “Oh my god, we’re all going to die.” But no, it was fine.

Michael Enright, CBC Radio host and juror (2010): It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every two weeks a huge box of books would arrive, and I’d have to go through them. It was not a burden, but it was a hell of a chore. I swore at the end of the process I’d never read another novel as long as I lived. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know if I could do it again. I don’t know how Atwood does it, with everything going on in her life. But I’m very glad I said yes.

David Adams Richards, winner for Mercy Among the Children (2000); juror (2001): Juries are not great things to sit on, but I think writers have to do their duty. If writers are asked and have time, I think at a certain point you’re obligated, because other people have taken the time to do it for you. It’s no pleasure keeping off books that are good, but you have to arrive at a consensus with the other jurors.

Urquhart: Having been on the jury twice, I know how seriously the jurors take their jobs. Nobody there is flip. The fact that your book doesn’t make it onto a list or doesn’t win does not mean that the jury didn’t like your book. Regardless of whom I’ve been on a jury with, the people involved always knew they were holding someone’s heart in their hands.

Enright: I had no idea that security was so tight. We went through this whole rigmarole of making sure no one knew the name of the winner until the dinner. We had to guard the name. We had to tear up all of the ballots and all our notes, and then all of the torn-up pieces had to be carried out of the room. I was given the name in an envelope the day of the banquet, and I carried it home and literally put it under my pillow when I had a nap in the afternoon.

In 2000, jurors Margaret Atwood, Alistair MacLeod, and Jane Urquhart determined a tie between Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost and David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children.

Urquhart: The rumours I have heard about that session have just made me howl with laughter because they’re not even close to being true. People think we were ripping each other’s throats out in there. It was actually very amicable. All three of us were on the same page about splitting the prize. We had to send some emissary out to find out if it was possible. Of course nobody will ever be able to do that again, thanks to us.

Rabinovitch: The jury decided to have a tie without my permission or authority. I had five cheques made out for $25,000 [the prize money at the time]. I thought, in for a penny in for a pound, and gave each of the co-winners a cheque. We set the rules straight after that: only one winner. I didn’t want to put the jury on the spot because they were doing their level best. You don’t want to criticize the fact there’s nothing you can do.

Richards: It was rather a strange turn of events that neither of us expected. I think everyone handled it as well as they could, and it was still a great evening.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Paul Haggis “obsessed” with Craig Davidson’s Cataract City

Craig Davidson

Is it just a matter of time before Craig Davidson sees another one of his works adapted for film?

A month ago, New York magazine ran a transcription of a conversation with actress Margarita Levieva and film director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who revealed that he was reading Davidson’s Scotiabank Giller Prize–nominated novel, Cataract City (Doubleday Canada). The magazine has updated the post with the full interview, which includes some high praise for Davidson.

Haggis says:

The setting is fabulous, because it’s the underbelly of Niagara Falls. It’s really lovely. I love the grittiness of it. And the writer is wonderful. I’m going to finish reading it tomorrow. I’m obsessed with it.

In 2012, two stories from Davidson’s collection Rust and Bone were adapted by French director Jacques Audiard. The film, starring Marion Cotillard, was nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign film.

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The Giller Prize story: an oral history, part one

Margaret Atwood and Jack Rabinovitch, 1998 (photo: Tom Sandler)

In the first post of a four-part oral history, Q&Q speaks to Scotiabank Giller Prize insiders about the award’s first 20 years. For the full story, see Q&Q‘s November issue, on newsstands soon.

In 1994, with a little help from his friends, Montreal developer Jack Rabinovitch established the Giller Prize in honour of his late wife, arts journalist Doris Giller.

Jack Rabinovitch: When Doris died, I thought something should be done, because she was an exceptional person. Some of our closest friends were Mordecai and Florence Richler. I flew to Montreal to see Mordecai at a place called Grumpy’s, and over double Scotches, we decided to form the Giller Prize and have a Montreal-style party. We would invite people who knew Doris, who were in the literary field, and who were interested in literature.

Mordecai recommended David Staines, whom he knew from Harvard, to sit on the jury. Our first meeting was at Moishes Steakhouse. Over chopped liver and onions we decided to ask Alice Munro to join us.

Doris loved flowers, so the first invitation had a rose attached to it. For 20 years we’ve been doing the same thing.

Patrick Crean, publisher of Giller winners Esi Edugyan and Austin Clarke: I was very fortunate in having an author nominated in the very first year, with Eliza Clark’s novel What You Need. I remember thinking how refreshing it was that there was this new prize. At the time, the Governor General’s Literary Awards seemed very stuffy and was the only game in town.

Rabinovitch: At the first dinner we encouraged betting. When M.G. Vassanji won, Mordecai said, “I don’t know why everyone is surprised. If they read the goddarn books, they would realize it was the best book!”

The invite-only gala quickly established itself as the most glamorous literary party of the year.

Jane Urquhart, finalist, The Stone Carvers (2001); two-time juror (1995, 2000): The first parties were the height of elegance. They weren’t nearly as big or loud as they are now. I enjoyed the intellectual discourse. The conversation at the tables really did have to do with the books. It was a way of expressing respect not just for the shortlisted books, but books generally, and what authors and writers do. Nothing like that had happened before in this country.

Rabinovitch: To get Mordecai to wear a tux was not the easiest thing in the world. He’d call me the night before the gala and say, “My old tux doesn’t fit,” and I’d say, “I could have told you that before.” So in the morning we’d have to order a rental tux that they could adjust to his girth.

Zsuzsi Gartner, finalist, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (2011):
My son, who was 11, was the only kid at the gala, and he was in his tux and a top hat. The whole night was fantastic and fun. I made loot bags for everybody at the table and put in a little item for each story in the book. We had windup toys and candies, and everybody was in very good spirits. And the spirits flowed, which is helpful.

Vincent Lam, winner, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (2006): Apparently, tons of people crash the Giller. Before the evening got started, they hurriedly set another place at our table. A person, whom I had never seen before or after, sat down. He didn’t say much, just ate dinner. No one knew who he was.

John Gould, finalist, Kilter: 55 Fictions (2003): It was overwhelming. It’s a long way from the writer’s life, especially when you’re an unknown author. It felt surreal to have that kind of glitzy fuss made over books, and a bit preposterous – like you were playing dress-up. My mom is a real CanLit buff, and it was fun to have her meet Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.

Lam: Shortly before the winners were announced, this woman comes up to me and says, “Hello.” I had no clue who she was. “Oh, I’m Sandra Martin,” she said. I still had no idea whatsoever. Then she said, “I’m the person who said all those terrible things about you in the newspaper.” I guess there had been a Globe and Mail piece where, as far as I can tell, terrible things were said about everyone.

Anyway, she was coming off as pretty aggressive. I think I had this wide grin on my face because what else are you going to do? Then she leaned in and said, “Well, you’re really out of your league now, aren’t you?” I felt like someone had stabbed me. That’s when I thought this is my “you’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Giller Prize jurors offer insight into their selection process

Esi Edugyan

Less than 24 hours before the Scotiabank Giller Prize reveals this year’s five shortlisted authors, the three judges – Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, and Esi Edugyan – discussed the jurying process in front of a small audience of fans and industry folk at a downtown Toronto Indigo bookstore.

Hosted by CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, the jurors described the “Herculean task” of reading 147 books over the span of several months, an activity the three saw as a way of giving back to the literary community. “It’s a vote of participation in the literary culture,” said Lethem.

According to Lethem and Atwood, prize founder Jack Rabinovitch played an important role in convincing them to participate. “I was flattered into it,” said Lethem. When Rabinovitch told Lethem that Atwood would also be on the jury, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “I started to read [her] books when I was 17 or 18,” he said.

For her part, Edugyan, who won the prize in 2011, said it didn’t take much convincing. “I got to talk books with Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem, and so intimately,” she said.

Atwood’s participation on the jury ruled her new novel, MaddAddam, out of consideration. As winner of the 1996 Giller Prize for Alias Grace, there was some speculation that she participated in the jury in order to leave the prize open for new Canadian talent. However, Atwood told the audience: “I didn’t think it would be in contention anyway. It’s the wrong kind of book.”

Absent from the discussion was any talk of the individual longlisted books (nor did they discuss the recent controversy surrounding nominated author David Gilmour), but each juror shared their selection process. Edugyan gave each submitted book 100 pages, whereas Lethem sometimes quit after 50.




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Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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