This year marks the 16th anniversary of the Giller Prize, arguably Canada’s best-known competition for fiction work. Perhaps less famously, this year also marks the 15th anniversary of the Giller Prize Shadow Jury, which now has a home on this site — and like the Real Giller an international component, with New Jersey-based, Idaho-born Shadow jury member Trevor Berrett at theMookse and theGripes. Allow me some explanation and then I’ll plunge on.
It was 15 years ago, one week before the announcement of the second Giller Prize winner, that Ken McGoogan (then book editor of the Calgary Herald, now an established author and critic), Robert Hilles (Calgary poet and novelist) and KfC (then publisher of the Herald) ran into each other in the newsroom lobby of the Herald. Ken had just spent some time with Mordecai Richler, Robert with Jane Urquhart, this blogger with David Staines — as it happened, those three were the jury for year two of the Giller. So, in a 10-minute conversation, we invented the Shadow Giller. Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance won it, in a two to one vote (McGoogan, always outside the mainstream, opted for Barbara Gowdy’s Mr. Sandman). A few days later, the Real Giller jury accepted our decision and named A Fine Balance that year’s winner.
The Booker prize had been going for a few decades at that point, accompanied by an annual controversy over its choices which continues to this day. Since the Giller was a new phenomenon, the Shadow Giller aimed to subvert some of that controversy. We recognized that it was unfair to start criticizing after the winner was selected — criticism was only fair if you declared your own choice in advance. We also promised that, should funds permit, if the Shadow Jury selection was not that of the Real Jury we would pay twice the Real prize amount to the author. Alas, funds have never permitted and we owe a few authors $50,000 but if I ever win the lottery, some authors will be getting a cheque. The Shadow Jury has declared a winner almost every year since. This is the first time it will ever have a home (this blog) where readers will be encouraged to submit their comments and choices.
Giller initiator and sponsor Jack Rabinovitch who established the prize in memory of his wife, Doris, (a well-known book reviewer and editor pictured above) has been a welcome supporter of the Shadow Jury almost from the start. While he recognizes we are in no way connected with the Real Giller (other than riding its coattails), more than once he has acknowledged the Shadow Jury in his speech at the annual awards dinner. Never once has he suggested that we are failing our mandate in our inability to make good on our promise to double his prize. Thanks, Jack.
Last year, the Real Giller went international and included Irish author Colm Toibin on its three-person jury, an innovation that the Shadow Giller saluted and echoed by adding the very perceptive “bookermt” from the United Kingdom to its jury (he is a regular contributor to forums on the Man Booker website if you want to check him out). We do owe Anthony De Sa $50,000 from last year as our choice was his Barnacle Love in a close battle with Joseph Boyden’s Through Black Spruce, the eventual Real Giller choice.
The Real Giller has a step up on us this year, since only one of the jurors (Alistair MacLeod) is Canadian. The other two — British novelist and biographer Victoria Glendenning and American novelist Russell Banks — do make this the most international jury of all literary prizes, even if only Canadian novelists are eligible. Alas, since two of our veteran jury members are Canadians and won’t be stepping aside, we can’t keep up on that front this year.
The Shadow Giller Jury members are:
— Alison Gzowski, former producer of CBC Radio’s Talking Books
— Trevor Berrett, blogger at theMookse and theGripes, based in New Jersey
— KfC, former newspaper publisher, now host at KevinfromCanada and a Shadow Jury member since day one.
The timetable for this year’s Real Giller is longlist announcement Sept. 21; shortlist Oct. 6; winner Nov. 10. The Shadow Giller Jury has never attempted to produce a longlist — too many books are published too late in the season in Canada and we don’t all have access to ARCs — but we do usually provide some suggestions (watch this space for that). We do attempt to read all the shortlist and promise that our winner will be named in advance of the Real Giller dinner. You will find those shortlist books reviewed either here or at Trevor’s site or both — with appropriate links so you can see both opinions. Alison doesn’t blog, but promises comments on both sites.
I’m hoping to revisit some of the early Giller winners with reviews before this year’s longlist is announced. Specifically, the first winner — M G Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets (1994), Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version (1997) and Richard Wright’s Clara Callan (2001). Trevor has reviewed Alias Grace (1996) so you can check out his style. I keep rereading A Fine Balance (1995) but this is not a year for it — for a non-Canadian view, Londoner William Rycroft at Just William\'s Luck offers a recent enthusiastic perspective. A full list of previous winners and shortlists can be found at the Giller Prize website.
That gets you up to date on Shadow Giller history. Since it is still some weeks until longlist, I’ll hold off on offering any recommendations now — please don’t hesitate to make suggestions in comments. I’ll post an update on some other possibities next week and I promise that sometime around Labor Day I’ll post some thoughts on contenders (yes, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and maybe even Anne Michaels look obvious — offbeat thoughts and first novel suggestions are particularly welcome in comments).
(EDIT: LATE NEWS UPDATE, Aug. 22 — The 2009 Giller Prize got much more competitive today when Giller Prize officials confirmed that Alice Munro has asked that her new book, Too Much Happiness, not be submitted for this year’s prize to make room for younger writers. It is a very gracious gesture from a two-time Giller winner who would have been the overwhelming favorite. Her book is out Aug. 25 — I hope to review it on this site next week.)
And if you are wondering, yes there will be a world-famous KFC contest.
Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts. Many prizes have a forum component but the Giller does not — the Shadow Giller is happy to provide it.
The Shadow Giller Jury rules. For now.