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Are The Gillers Rigged?

2007_1_23atwood.jpgFor every prestigious award shows there will be people who complain that the prize is rigged. The Gillers, Canada’s most prestigious literary award, is no stranger to this. In its 13 year history the prize has been criticized for its bias towards larger publishers, to Ontario authors and any number of other shortcomings.
Geist magazine columnist Stephen Henighan throws another log angrily onto that fire with his latest missive that accuses the prize of a number of sins including favouring publishers owned by German media giant Bertelsmann Group, favouring GTA writers and being a symptom of the slow death of CanLit.
We were just appalled that event sponsor Chapters Indigo would cheap out and give out a remaindered Stephen King novel at Canada’s most important literary event. So two-bit starlets get thousand dollar bags of swag and Canada’s literary elite get an $8.99 horror novel? We digress.
Henighan also points his finger at Margaret Atwood. He recalls Vincent Lam’s Giller win last fall:

As soon as Atwood stood up to introduce the fifth shortlisted author, Vincent Lam, anyone who understood power in Canadian culture knew that Lam had won. Margaret Atwood does not introduce losers. By placing her authority behind Lam, she was giving the equivalent of el dedazo, the crook of the finger with which a Mexican president signals his successor.

Our friends at Quill and Quire dig a little further and shows us this old Anansi ad which has the diminutive Atwood in a lineup with Giller juror Michael Winter.
Henighan does have a few points. While we know that this city has some amazing writers we find it hard to believe that every Giller winner, except Mordecai Richler, has come from Toronto. Even 2000 co-winner and Maritimer David Adams Richards now lives here.
The jurors that pick the Giller winners aren’t stacked with a bunch of Ontario writers. Michael Winter is from St. John’s although he apparently spends an awful lot of time in Toronto, making him suspect. In previous years non-GTA writers like Alistair Macleod, Rudy Wiebe, Thomas King and Alberto Manguel has helped pick winners. So why is it that only Toronto books seem to walk home with a cheque from Jack Rabinovitch?
We’re not sure we want to pry into this too deeply. We hear that Atwood’s reach and influence in this town run deep and with the Long Pen who knows how far it’ll go? We suggest you literary muckrackers tread lightly.


  • Nathan

    Henighan didn’t say that all the Giller winners were from Toronto, but rather that all of them up to 2005 – excluding Richler – lived within two hours’ drive of Yonge and Bloor, which is pretty funny when you realize that such a span encompasses the Golden Horseshoe, and therefore a big chunk of the Canadian population. (It also includes Henighan himself.)

  • Elana Rabinovitch

    Last fall, at our request, Chapters Indigo graciously agreed to lend the Scotiabank Giller Prize books that could be used to build a literary centrepiece for each table at our annual prize event. We asked for big, fat hardcover books to achieve that effect, books that were to be covered in laminating paper and stacked like sculptures. These books were not, as your post states, to be part of any goody bag to be given out to guests. They were props. That guests actually made off with copies of these books is an argument for closing the bar a little earlier perhaps, but those books were most decidedly not swag. Where you guys got the impression that Canada’s leading book chain and a major Canadian literary prize would think it was a good idea to give out a Stephen King novel to their guests is baffling. So in case I wasn’t clear. Chapters Indigo loaned us over 200 books purely in the service of supporting and promoting Canadian literature. Their efforts should be lauded, not criticized.
    More understandable, at least for sheer entertainment value, is your blog drawing attention to the ravings of Stephen Henighan. Henighan’s bitterness toward the Giller Prize is almost legendary. No one’s quite sure why, but hopefully all the brow sweat and ink he spills writing about us will at least stimulate more conversations about and reading of Canadian literature. What’s striking is how prescient Mordecai Richler was when he stated, at the launch of The Giller Prize almost 14 years ago, that “when you give Canadians an apple, they look for the razor blade inside”.