In a ceremony streamed live on Facebook, Souvankham Thammavongsa was awarded Canada's 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her collection of short stories How to Pronounce Knife. The book is published by McClelland & Stewart in Canada and Little, Brown in the U.S. The Giller Prize is considered Canada's most prestigious award for fiction and comes with C$100,000 cash.
Thammavongsa, like the 2019 winner Ian Williams, was born abroad, was previously best known as a poet, and won for a debut work of fiction. "How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose," wrote the prize jury in their citation. "The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land. Thammavongsa’s fiction cuts to the core of the immigrant reality like a knife – however you pronounce it."
The Giller Prize ceremony is typically a glitzy black tie affair held in a downtown Toronto four star hotel. This year's Facebook broadcast was hosted by actor Eric McCormack and included a performance by jazz musician Diana Krall. When the award was announced, a representative from the Giller committee was waiting outside Thammavongsa's apartment in Toronto to present her with the prize, a handmade statue depicting a pile of books cast in glass.