The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, who passed away from cancer the year before. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction – long format or short stories – and endowed a cash prize annually of $25,000.00, the largest purse for literature in the country.
The launch of The Giller Prize coincided with a growing recognition of Canadian authors and literature both at home and abroad. Acclaimed writers such as Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Mordecai Richler were winning honours and accolades around the world. The time seemed ripe to celebrate the success of these and other homegrown writers within these borders, with a bold statement of support and recognition.
The Giller Prize, along with many other awards that came before and after, is in part responsible for the continued growth of Canadian literary talent. The prize has so far endowed more than three-quarters of a million dollars to Canadian writers from coast to coast. Past winners can be found here.
Wins the 2018 prize. From jury citation: How often history asks us to underestimate those trapped there. This remarkable novel imagines what happens when a black man escapes history’s inevitable clasp – in his case, in a hot air balloon no less. Washington Black, the hero of Esi Edugyan’s novel is born in the 1800s in Barbados with a quick mind, a curious eye, and a yearning for adventure. In conjuring Black’s vivid and complex world – as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas – Edugyan has written 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.
Short-Listed for the 2018 Prize. From jury citation: A “tragedy of manners” about people out of sync in the world, this novel is disconcertingly funny. It strikes postures where a more conventional writer would have been sincere and humourless. Its subjects are effrontery, wealth, death and bad manners. Many of the greatest novels are about nothing so very important, and they last because they are done beautifully. French Exit shows Patrick deWitt’s literary mastery and perfect ear. It’s an immaculate performance on ice, executed with sharp shining blades, lutzing and pirouetting above unknowable black depths.
Songs for the cold of heart
Short-Listed for the 2018 Prize. From jury citation: Once upon a time in Quebec there was a girl named Madeleine. A tiny red headed waif with only a suitcase in her possession steps off a train in a frozen village, and a strapping Quebec man falls head over heels in love with her strangeness. A baby is born from this union that is so big, it manages to kill both its parents in childbirth. As magnificent a work of irony and magic as the boldest works of Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez, but with a wholly original sensibility that captures the marvellous obsessions of the Quebecois zeitgeist of the twentieth century. It is without any doubt, a tour de force. And the translation is as exquisite as a snowflake.
An ocean of minutes
Short-Listed for the 2018 Prize. From jury citation: America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan. Time travel has been invented; if she signs up for a one-way trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs.
Short-Listed for the 2018 Prize. From jury citation: Having reached an age when most of her peers are asking themselves when they will become mothers, Heti's narrator considers, with the same urgency, whether she will do it all. Over the course of several years, under the influence of her partner, body, family, friends, mysticism and chance, she struggles to make a moral and meaningful choice.