At a gala ceremony Tuesday evening in downtown Toronto, André Alexis was named the winner of the C$100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada's most prestigious literary award for fiction, for his novel Fifteen Dogs (Coach House Books).
Alexis, who is 58, was born in Trinidad and Tobago, grew up in Ottawa, and currently lives in Toronto. His debut novel Childhood (McClelland & Stewart) was shortlisted for the prize in 1998. Fifteen Dogs, which won the C$25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, is an allegory in which two Greek gods grant 15 dogs human consciousness to see if the maneuver will bring the canines happiness. The jury said the novel was one in which "humor juxtaposed with savagery, solitude with the desperate need to be part of a pack," and that it has "perceptive prose interspersed with playful poetry.”
The prize also marked a major victory for Alexis's publisher, the Toronto-based Coach House Books. Fifteen Dogs is the house's first book to win the Giller, and Alexis made a point of thanking his editor, Alana Wilcox, in his acceptance speech.
In his speech, Alexis, who is currently working on a December 2016-slated book for Coach House called The Hidden Keys, said he adored Wilcox. He went on: “She also belongs to a press called Coach House, which I have admired since I began to write. I can’t tell you how happy I am to win this in the 50th year of Coach House’s existence.”
Wilcox said Coach House is now planning to print 30,000 more copies of Fifteen Dogs.
The other finalists this year were Samuel Archibald for the short story collection Arvida (Biblioasis, translated from French by Donald Winkler), Rachel Cusk for her novel Outline (HarperCollins), Heather O'Neill for her short story collection Daydreams of Angels (HarperCollins), and Anakana Schofield for her novel Martin John (Biblioasis). The short list was unusually dominated by small presses this year, with two nominations for Windsor, Ontario-based Biblioasis and one for Coach House Books.
For the first time, the jury was increased from three to five people, comprising Irish author John Boyne, British author Helen Oyeyemi, and Canadian writers Cecil Foster, Alexander MacLeod, and Alison Pick. They chose the winner out of 168 submitted books, a record in the 22-year history of the Giller Prize.