Surprise filled in the room as the finalists were announced for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for fiction in Toronto on Monday. The five authors who will now be considered for the $100,000 winning award were chosen from a very strong longlist of nominees that included veteran writers Rawi Hage, Lisa Moore and Kim Thuy, and powerful debuts by Tanya Tagaq and Joshua Whitehead.
Yet, none of those names made the top five.
Patrick deWitt for his novel French Exit (House of Anansi), was the first of the five to be announced, in alphabetical order. deWitt was a finalist in 2011 for The Sisters Brothers, which became a movie that just had its North Amerian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival; he was also longlisted in 2015 for Undermajordomo Minor.
Eric Dupont for his novel Songs for the Cold of Heart, translated by Peter McCambridge (QC Fiction, an imprint of Baraka Books).
Esi Edugyan, Washington Black (Patrick Crean Editions) Edugyan won the prize in 2011 — when it was still worth $50,000 — for Half-Blood Blues. Her new book Washington Black was called “a cinematic epic of slavery and freedom.” Edugyan and this book have also been nominated for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
Sheila Heti, Motherhood (Knopf Canada). Her book How Should a Person Be, as well as other projects, have made her a well-known and popular thinker; this is her first Giller appearance.
Thea Lim, An Ocean of Minutes (Viking Canada) This is her second book, having previously published The Same Woman in 2007.
The five nominees were whittled down from the 12-person longlist by this year’s jury: Canadian writer and journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee (Jury Chair); playwright Maxine Bailey, who is vice-president of advancement for the Toronto International Film Festival; American writer John Freeman; English novelist Philip Hensher and Canadian author Heather O’Neill.
Each publisher imprint is allowed to submit two books for consideration by the jury; the jury, however, can also call in books that haven’t been submitted to ensure that books they think are worthy at least of consideration aren’t overlooked. This didn’t account for some surprises on the longlisted nominees this year, including the absence of Miriam Toews’ latest book Women Talking.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Giller Prize. While its intent is still to honour the best in Canadian fiction that year, it has also seen major changes in the last few years. Its founder, Jack Rabinovitch, passed in August, 2017 after a “catastrophic” fall at the age of 87. He created the prize in 1994 to honour his wife, Doris Giller, a former books editor at the Toronto Star, who died in 1993.
Whenever he spoke at the Gillers, Rabinovitch would say: “For the price of a dinner in this town you can buy all the nominated books. So, eat at home and buy the books.”
Rabinovitch was around, though, to witness a bigger involvement of corporate sponsors Scotiabank, which doubled the prize pot awarded to the most successful of Canadian authors this year. The winner will receive $100,000; each finalist receives $10,000. It is a prize that was doubled from $50,000 in 2014.
In addition to the grand prize, the winner will also receive a two-week, self-directed residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
The winner of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced at a gala celebration in Toronto on Monday Nov. 19.
Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: debdundas