This year the Scotiabank Giller Prize celebrates its 25th anniversary, but without Jack Rabinovitch, its unforgettable founder who died last year at 87. As the lore goes, in 1993 over drinks in a Montreal bar, Rabinovitch and friend Mordecai Richler conceived the idea to honor Rabinovitch’s late wife, Doris Giller, by creating the Giller Prize. Since then, the Doris Giller Rabinovitch Foundation, which later took on title sponsor Scotiabank, has endowed over C$1 million to Canadian authors—making it undoubtedly the most romantic and generous gesture ever made in the name of Canadian literature.
But the legacy hardly stops there. Giller glitter is as far reaching in the Canadian literary community as celestial dust, with publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers benefiting alongside the nominated authors. The winning books are almost guaranteed bestseller status. Coach House publisher Alana Wilcox says that when Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs won the prize in 2015, book sales accelerated 25 times the projected amount, and the win helped to garner the title’s international acclaim.
Although the Giller brand is irrevocably linked with literary giants such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Michael Ondaatje, it is the prize’s recognition of new and diverse voices that elicits a shimmer of excitement with every year’s unveiling of the longlist. In recent years Esi Edugyan, Kim Thúy, Madeleine Thien, and Eden Robinson, along with Quebecois authors, have taken the main stage, while Canadian indie presses such as House of Anansi and Biblioasis stand shoulder to shoulder with the mammoth international houses. We still have far to go in terms of diversity in Canadian literature, but where the prize succeeds is in catapulting authors into starlight, illuminating and inspiring new voices to follow.
As 2013 winner Lynn Coady said on accepting the prize for the short story collection Hellgoing, “I am proud not just to be a Canadian writer, but to be a Canadian—to live in a country where we treat our writers like movie stars.”
This year readers can attend readings by finalists in cities across Canada, as well as in London and New York, prior to the award gala in Toronto on November 19. For announcements, dates, and venues, visit scotiabankgillerprize.ca.