TORONTO — Victoria-based author Esi Edugyan says her second
time winning the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her
latest novel Washington Black felt all the more meaningful amid
a climate in which truth is “under siege.”
Published by Patrick Crean Editions, the novel follows the saga
of an 11-year-old boy who escapes slavery at a Barbados sugar
plantation with the help of the owner’s kinder brother.
Edugyan secured the top prize after a season flush with acclaim
for Washington Black, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker
Prize and the Writers’ Trust fiction award.
As she took to the stage Monday night at the Ritz-Carlton in
Toronto, Edugyan sighed as she admitted she didn’t prepare a
speech, because she didn’t expect to win.
“In a climate in which so many forms of truth telling are under
siege, this feels like a really wonderful and important
celebration of words,” she told the crowd, which included
notables such as acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, actor Gordon
Pinsent and former Ontario premier Bob Rae.
Runners-up included Patrick deWitt for French Exit, Thea Lim
for An Ocean of Minutes, Sheila Heti’s Motherhood and Songs for
the Cold of Heart by Eric Dupont, translated from French by
Edugyan’s first Giller win was for Half-Blood Blues in 2011,
when she also beat out fellow contender deWitt.
In an interview after the awards ceremony, Edugyan said the
literary triumph felt different this time around, saying she
felt like she was taking a risk with the subject matter in
“I sort of feel maybe that it’s opened me to writing about
anything,” she said. “Stories of the marginalized, it’s
extremely important to get those out there, and for us to be
reading them, and trying to imagine ourselves into other skins,
and not closing ourselves down.
“It’s part of, I think, keeping the dialogue alive, and keeping
Edugyan said she hopes her success empowers readers who may not
see underrepresented in literature.
“To see a black woman win the prize … that’s huge. For me, when
I was growing up in Calgary in the (1980s), there weren’t a ton
of Canadian models in terms of people who had my background,”
Stories of the marginalized, it’s extremely important to get
those out there, and for us to be reading them
A five-member jury praised Washington Black as “a supremely
engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity
is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age
in which one lives.”
Jury members Heather O’Neill, John Freeman, Kamal Al-Solaylee,
Maxine Bailey and Philip Hensher culled this year’s short list
from 104 titles submitted by publishers across the country.
This year’s televised gala was hosted by comedian Rick Mercer,
who elicited a mix of guffaws and groans from the crowd with
his political humour, while The Tragically Hip’s Johnny Fay
drummed presenters on and off the stage.
Celebrating its 25th year, the Giller awards $100,000 annually
to the author of the best Canadian novel or short story
collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the
Last year’s winner was Michael Redhill for Bellevue Square.