Shadowing the Best of CanLit

Featuring the Shadow Giller

Tonight we will find out the official winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and right now you will find out who the Shadow Jury has chosen as their winner. Are you ready?

While this was not a unanimous decision and didn’t come as quickly and easily as last year’s choice, it was at the very top of Juror Lindy’s list all along, and for both Jurors’ Penny and John it was second in line. Therefore….our winner for the 2021 Giller Prize is……

Will the Shadow Jury choose the official winner for a second year in a row? We will find out tonight!

Here are some reasons why our Shadow Jury chose Fight Night by Miriam Toews as the winner:

In the words of Shadow Juror Lindy: Fight Night hit me so deeply emotionally. Lindy felt it was the perfect novel, due to its twin subjects of mental health, and our need for love & support from the people around us, are relevant always… yet maybe more so in pandemic times. John enjoyed it saying it was funny, full of heart, and he loved the voice. Penny warmed to it toward its ending and realized its impact at that end.

Watch the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize broadcast tonight on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service, where the winner will be announced. 9 p.m. ET and see if we once again chose the same winner!

Introducing the 2021 #ScotiabankGillerPrize shortlist!

📚 Omar El Akkad for his novel What Strange Paradise, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

📚 Angélique Lalonde for her story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, published by House of Anansi

📚 Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia for her novel The Son of The House, published by Dundurn Press

📚 Jordan Tannahill for his novel The Listeners, published by HarperCollins Canada

📚 Miriam Toews for her novel Fight Night, published by Knopf Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

“This year’s powerhouse lineup features five enormously talented Canadian writers. The books on this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist are wildly different but equally absorbing. The common throughlines are masterful storytelling and depth of literary expression.”
— Elana Rabinovitch, Executive Director, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Scotiabank congratulates the outstanding authors named to the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist. Scotiabank is thrilled to continue to support this celebration of excellence in Canadian literature. Through another challenging year, Scotiabank remains committed to supporting arts and culture, and the immense talents of Canadians across the country.
— John Doig, Executive Vice President, Retail Distribution, Scotiabank

Our Shadow Giller reading will now commence in earnest and we’ll be back before November 8th to announce our very own winner! Will the Shadow Giller jury pick the winner for another year that is the same as the official Giller? Stay tuned!

I’m sitting here staring at the list of 12 books on the Giller Longlist desperately trying to think of which will be on the Shortlist. I’m failing miserably. Will it even be 6 books? As few as 5 or even 4?

My Longlist wishlist saw only 3 correct out of 12. Depending on how many will actually be named to the Shortlist, my odds could be one maybe 2? So once again, whatever I “predict” is a complete wishlist. I admit to only completely finishing 3 and I have 3 others on the go right now. I’ve been waiting (and waiting) for 2 others to come in from the library – they show as me being first in line for books that are available, but they haven’t made their way to me yet.

The books I’ve finished?

Miriam Toews is always a favourite with the Giller judges, and it wasn’t a surprise to find this book on the Longlist. But for the Shortlist? I myself don’t really see it. Or maybe to say in my opinion, I don’t want to necessarily see it on the Shortlist? Of the 3 above, Astra was the one I liked the most and it would be great to see Bowers have her debut make it all the way to the Shortlist.

The ones I have on the go?

I started What Strange Paradise in audio because the wonderful Dion Graham narrates. His voice is perfectly and fittingly resonant and enjoyably so, however there is just something about this story that makes me want to read the words with my eyes and not my ears. So I’ve been (im)patiently waiting for the book to become available to me from the library. I’ve just only started The Strangers last night, but with a family tree, its synopsis and a trigger warning from the author in the front, I feel strongly that this would be a book I’ll fully settle into. I bought We, Jane and read about 3 pages of it so far. (Library holds showed up and I had to finish those first!) I do hope to see these three on the Shortlist, (We, Jane purely for selfish reasons, I own the book, so I’d like to be able to finish reading it!)

With these 5 read, or partially read, I can clearly see common themes here. Themes of identity, belonging and family are strongly present with identity being the strongest in my opinion.

I’m assuming Swimming Back to Trout River is (forever?) lost in my library system. It is showing as supposed to have been returned a month ago, and I’m first in line next for it, but that notification it’s on its way looks to never be coming. It is highly unlikely it will arrive before the Shortlist’s announcement in time for me to even start it. It has however recently been named to the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, so does that mean good things for it here on the Giller Shortlist?

I’m 4th in line for The Listeners, so clearly I won’t be able to read it before Tuesday’s announcement. I can’t even assume to make a prediction for this one.

Thuy’s Em was only just released and already has a number of holds on it so it will be a wait before I can read this one. Thuy is a venerable favourite with the Giller judges, this is her third time appearing on the Prize’s list(s). I can only assume she’ll appear on the Shortlist.

So the books I would like to see on the Shortlist? My complete guess? Which I know will be so way off probably! I’m going to go with 5 only because I don’t think this jury is going to have that even half from the Longlist.

So I’ve noted the 3 above already that I do hope to see on the Shortlist, but I’m thinking perhaps only 2 might appear: The Strangers, and What Strange Paradise.

So the other 3? My guesses would be:

So Penny’s 5-book Giller Prize Shortlist wishlist is:

The Strangers, by Katherena Vermette

What Strange Paradise, by Omar El Akkad

The Son of the House, by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

A Dream of a Woman, by Casey Plett

em, Kim Thuy

How far or how close do you think I am? Which books do you wish to see on Tuesday’s Shortlist announcement?

The 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist was announced online on Wednesday, Sept. 8 at 10 a.m. ET.

The $100,000 award annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction. The announcement was hosted by 2020 winning author Souvankham Thammavongsa. She won for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. (A Shadow Giller winner as well!)

Canadian writer Zalika Reid-Benta is chairing the five-person jury this year. Joining her are Canadian writers Megan Gail Coles and Joshua Whitehead, Malaysian writer Tash Aw and American writer Joshua Ferris.

132 works of literature were read by the jury and 12 books were selected for the Longlist. That list is:

2021 Giller Prize Longlist

📚 Cedar Bowers for her novel Astra, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

📚 Omar El Akkad for his novel What Strange Paradise, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

📚 Angélique Lalonde for her story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, published by House of Anansi

📚 Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onubia for her novel The Son of The House, published by Dundurn Press

📚 Casey Plett for her story collection A Dream of a Woman, published by Arsenal Pulp Press

📚 Rachel Rose for her story collection The Octopus Has Three Hearts, published by Douglas & McIntyre

📚 Linda Rui Feng for her novel Swimming Back to Trout River, published by Simon & Schuster

📚 Jordan Tannahill for his novel The Listeners, published by HarperCollins Canada

📚 Kim Thúy for her novel Em, published by Random House Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada, translated by Sheila Fischman

📚 Miriam Toews for her novel Fight Night, published by Knopf Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

📚 Katherena Vermette for her novel The Strangers, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

📚 Aimee Wall for her novel We, Jane, published by Book*hug Press

Of the longlist, the jury wrote:

In a year of logistical challenges and the continued relevance of virtual meeting platforms, the jury of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize has emerged from many hours of private reading and many rounds of lively debate with a longlist of twelve titles. This extraordinary dozen showcases an ecstatic diversity of voices and styles, of narrative deployment and moral urgency, of formal innovation and old-fashioned storytelling pleasure. There is something for everyone on this list, and within each of these books there is to be found beauty, honest reckoning, human compassion, and the irrefutable mark of the sublime. It was the jury’s great honour to delight in the manifold achievements of these books, and with their announcement we leave this debate settled for another year: Canada’s literature is as vibrant and expansive as ever.

Happy Reading! What do you think of this year’s Longlist?

We here at the Shadow Jury will read through the Longlist, but will really be focusing our efforts on the upcoming Shortlist announcement before crowning our own winner one day prior to the official winner’s announcement.

We hope you join us again this year!

We’re just days away from the Giller Longlist announcement for 2021. What will be on it? I found I couldn’t get much of a sense of what this year’s jury would gravitate towards, and I’m not so sure of what could be on the Longlist myself! I do recognize similar themes in some of the books, so will it be based on that? So unknown! Which is a nice thing in a way isn’t it? I don’t mind being surprised….

I have read a fairly decent amount of the books shown on the Craving CanLit site, and for me only a few have stood out that I feel are strong contenders for the Longlist. Therefore, I’m really intrigued to see what will be on it – September 8th seems so far away, yet it’s just around the corner!

My list will first feature those books I’ve read and do hope to see on the Longlist, and the rest of my list is a total crapshoot – more of a Wishlist really!

One book I read, that to me, smacked hard for a Giller contender was Satellite Love. I wrote way back in April that if this didn’t make the Longlist this year I would eat my hat in anger and frustration! I loved this one with all of the Ruth Ozeki style feelings it gave me. It was wonderful, weird, compelling and while having similar feelings to Ozeki, this felt completely original. Fingers crossed we see it on the Longlist! (Juror Lindy has vastly different feelings about this one, and that’s okay Lindy, but I still better see it on the Longlist! 😉 )

Another one I think (hope?) could make the Longlist? Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack by Heidi Von Palleske. I loved this one very much as well. The imagery and the symbolism surrounding vision, sight, eyes, etc was stunning, as were every character found inside.

There are a number of short story collections in the Craving CanLit list, but I’ve only read one and that too I feel is a strong contender. What You Are by M.G. Vassanji. I especially loved the stories he wrote from a female perspective.

Another novel that I thought quite impressive and thought it to have very good prospects to be a contender was Astra by Cedar Bowers. I felt it to be a strong contender because of the compelling story about how your identity is shaped through the eyes of others. I would be quite pleased to see this on the Longlist.

We had 14 books make the Longlist in 2020. Will it be around the same number? I might just pick 12 and as you can see, the majority of this list will be a total guess and more of a wishlist. So that would mean 8 more if I want a list of 12, or 10 more to be a list of 14. I think I’ll stick with 12. We’ll see how that goes below….

First of all, I am really hoping to see Ruth Ozeki’s newest, The Book of Form and Emptiness. What is distressing is that it isn’t out until almost the end of September?! Hopefully they push it up immediately if it does make the Longlist?? I’m dying to get my hands on a copy of this one. This is my #1 wishlist pick!

The others? I’ll just add as a group….these are a mix of wishlist items and books I think have the most potential to be chosen? Nothing scientific about it at all, just complete guesswork based on earlier favourites appearing on the lists and ones that seem to have the best potential!

Okay, I need to add a few more! 8 doesn’t seem to be enough – so here’s a couple more I wouldn’t mind seeing on the list:

What do you think of my list? Think it has potential? What’s on your list?

Today on Instagram, this announcement about the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize was made:

We are thrilled to announce the #AtwoodGibson Writers’ Trust #FictionPrize, a newly named incarnation of our annual #literaryaward that has recognized the best work of fiction published by a #Canadianwriter for the past 24 years. The award is now worth $60,000 and is named after two iconic writers, #MargaretAtwood and #GraemeGibson, known for their bold and original works of fiction and their unwavering commitment to supporting #Canadian culture – which includes co-founding the Writers’ Trust.

Celebrating 45 years of supporting #Canadianliterature@writerstrust is a charitable organization that champions authors through a suite of programs and distributed more than $970,000 in direct support to Canadian writers in 2020.

A couple in life, #Atwood and Gibson were among the five co-founders of the Writers’ Trust in 1976, part of their tireless efforts to build structural supports for the then-nascent Canadian #literarycommunity. As artists, activists, advocates, and cultural citizens, their work has made a profound difference for subsequent generations of writers. Though Gibson passed away in 2019, Atwood continues to be a vital literary force, an author of global stature, and a passionate supporter of #CanLit.

It is these twin notions that both writers exemplify – a dedication to artistic excellence in fiction and a commitment to support the larger community of writers – that are embodied in the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

The newly launched #AtwoodGibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize is generously funded by Canadian businessman & philanthropist Jim Balsillie — an important investment in the future of #Canadianfiction & a fitting tribute to #canlit visionaries @MargaretAtwood & #GraemeGibson.

Congratulations to Souvankham Thammavongsa on winning the Giller Prize for 2020. As you know the Shadow Giller chose How to Pronounce Knife as their winner as well and we couldn’t be more thrilled that the Giller jury felt the same as we did!

On her wonderful win Thammavongsa said, “36 years ago I went to school and I pronounced the word knife wrong but I didn’t get a prize.

Jurors hailed the book as “a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose.

Born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and raised in Toronto, Thammavongsa has earned acclaim for her four poetry books and her writing has been featured in publications including Harper’s Magazine, the Paris Review and The Atlantic.

We look forward to reading more of what Thammavongsa writes in the future. Congratulations!

That’s a wrap for this year’s Shadow Jury! It has been a great honour to work together reading through the books chosen for this great literary prize.

A unanimous decision was easily and quickly concluded by the Shadow Giller jurors for their 2020 winner.

We are pleased to announce we have chosen How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa as the winner of the Shadow Giller 2020.

The stories that make up How to Pronounce Knife focus on characters struggling to find their bearings in unfamiliar territory, or shuttling between idioms, cultures, and values. In a taut, visceral prose style that establishes her as one of the most striking and assured voices of her generation, Thammavongsa interrogates what it means to make a living, to work, and to create meaning (Taken from the Goodreads description). This collection was the first choice for all jurors, with rankings of the remaining finalists falling into similar if not exact order. But there was no denying this story collection was the winner here.

Of all five finalists,  Elana Rabinovitch, Executive Director, Scotiabank Giller Prize has said that, “Nowhere is the need for reflections on the human condition more pressing than now. This year’s shortlist is bursting with stories of belonging, relationships, dislocation, economic ruin and rites of passage. 2020 will go down in history not just as the year of COVID but the year Canadian writers hit their literary stride.” The Shadow Jury felt that the book that best reflected the human condition most powerfully was How to Pronounce Knife. Here is what the Shadow Giller jury had to say about it:

Kate:  I found this read so simplistic yet heavily loaded with aspects of (or can imagine) being a new immigrant or 1st generation Canadian and just how well the author captured subtle moments with everything from grace, sadness and giggles. I thoroughly enjoyed how she crafted her writing as it has deliciously packed my brain with visuals that allowed me to travel with her through her stories. So, so much pride and I’ll be honest, suffering a bit post read as I enjoyed it so much.

Lindy: These quiet stories, told with compassion and humour, feature Laotian refugees and immigrants. They are bus drivers, beauticians, farm labourers and factory workers—hard-working, self confident people. People who carry a sense of home within themselves. People who know the power of laughter. There’s a lovely porous quality to Thammavongsa’s writing: it holds the sense of possibility in all that is unsaid and unnamed. 

Naomi: I’m not surprised by our unanimous decision to choose How to Pronounce Knife as the Shadow Giller winner. We’ve been gushing about it all along – it was going to take a pretty special book to come ahead of this one, in my mind. The stories in this collection have stayed with me – the images seared into my mind. Powerful, emotional, eye-opening, and yet so easy to read.

Penny: These stories have remained on my mind months after reading. The emotion, depth, and humour told in each one have all left long-lasting impressions on me. It was always my top pick of the bunch.

If the 2020 Giller Prize jury announces How to Pronounce Knife as their winner as well, it would mean Thammavongsa’s collection is the 5th time a short story collection has won the prize. 1998 and 2004 went to Alice Munro for The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway, followed by Vincent Lam’s 2006 win for Bloodletting and Other Cures and in 2013 Lynn Coady won for Hellgoing.

The Shadow Giller was active during the time when Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing won the Giller. It was not the Shadow Giller’s pick (that went to The Orenda by Joseph Boyden). Here is what the Shadow Giller jury had to say about Hellgoing when it was announced as the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize.

Do you think the Giller jury will feel the same as we do? We’re looking forward to finding out on Monday evening!

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