Books by Miriam Toews, Omar El Akkad, Angélique Lalonde, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Jordan Tannahill have been shortlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The $100,000 prize is the biggest in Canadian literature.
Toews, a writer from Winnipeg who now lives in Toronto, is a finalist for her latest novel, Fight Night. Fight Night is also a finalist for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
The other finalists are making their first appearance on the Giller Prize shortlist.
Tannahill, a U.K.-based Canadian playwright who has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for drama twice, is nominated for his second novel, The Listeners.
Two first-time authors have made the shortlist: B.C.-based writer Lalonde for her debut short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings and Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, who divides her time between Halifax and Lagos, is nominated for her debut novel The Son of the House.
Rounding out the crop of five finalists is Portland-based Canadian journalist Omar El Akkad, who is nominated for his second novel, What Strange Paradise. He is also the author of the novel American War, which was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by actor Tahmoh Penikett.
The winner will be announced on Nov. 8, 2021.
The ceremony will be hosted by poet Rupi Kaur and actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee.
Kaur is a bestselling poet from Brampton, Ont. She currently has more than 4 million Instagram followers.
Sun-Hyung Lee is an actor and comedian best known for his roles on CBC’s Kim Convenience and Disney’s The Mandalorian. He recently championed the novel Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots on Canada Reads 2021.
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.
Between the Pages, an event celebrating the 2021 finalists, will take place on Nov. 4 at Koerner Hall in Toronto. It will be hosted by q books columnist Jael Richardson and will also be livestreamed online for a virtual audience.
Last year’s winner was Toronto writer Souvankham Thammavongsa. She won for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife.
Other past Giller Prize winners include Ian Williams for Reproduction, Esi Edugyan for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues, Michael Redhill for Bellevue Square, Margaret Atwood for Alias Grace, Mordecai Richler for Barney’s Version, Alice Munro for Runaway, André Alexis for Fifteen Dogs and Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Jack Rabinovitch founded the prize in honour of his late wife Doris Giller in 1994. Rabinovitch died in 2017 at the age of 87.
You can learn more about the five shortlisted books and authors below.
What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don’t share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, “How did we get here?” and “What are we going to do about it?”
“Amid all the anger and confusion surrounding the global refugee crisis, Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise paints a portrait of displacement and belonging that is at once unflinching and tender. In examining the confluence of war, migration and a sense of settlement, it raises questions of indifference and powerlessness and, ultimately, offers clues as to how we might reach out empathetically in a divided world,” the jury said in a statement.
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In the short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, human and more-than-human worlds come together in places we call home. Among other tales, a ghost tends to the family garden, a shape-shifting mother deals with the complexities of love when one son is born with beautiful fox ears and another is not and a daughter tries to make sense of her dating profile after her mom dies.
“Menopausal gods, procreating droids and boys born as foxes are only a modest few of the glorious frazzled beings that populate Angelique Lalonde’s astonishing story collection. Many of the ever-present concerns of the contemporary world — ecology, capital, conservation, gender fluidity, addiction, inequality, indigenous displacement, and the eternal limits of human perspective — find in Lalonde a beguiling literary voice equal to the age, pushing not only at the boundaries of literature but at those of articulation and being. Lalonde gravitates here to the fable and the fairy tale, familiar and estranging in equal measure, to claw at the divide between our world and others — the animal, the alien — while inevitably falling back on, and forgiving, the ever-flawed human being,” the jury said in a statement.
Angélique Lalonde is a B.C. writer whose work has been featured in PRISM International, the Journey Prize Anthology, Room and the Malahat Review, among other publications. She received the 2019 Writers’ Trust Journey Prize and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. She was awarded an Emerging Writer’s residency at the Banff Centre. She lives in Northern B.C. and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Victoria.
The Son of the House is the story of two Nigerian women, the housemaid Nwabulu and the wealthy Julie. The two live very different lives, but when both are kidnapped and forced to spend days together in a dark, tiny room, they keep hope alive by sharing the stories of their lives and finding common ground.
“It is a delightful gift to find a book you feel fortunate to have read, akin to discovering a treasure. That is the case with The Son of the House. The novel explores issues of patriarchy and classism, themes of friendship and loss through the lenses of two very different yet unexpectedly connected women in Nigeria. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia writes a modern novel with fairytale elements and prose that punches you in the gut, leaving you wonderfully stunned by the time the book is finished,” the jury said in a statement.
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic and writer who divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the House is her first novel.
In the novel The Listeners, Claire Devon is one of a disparate group of people who can hear a low hum. No one in her house can hear it, and this sound has no obvious source or medical cause, but it starts upsetting the balance of Claire’s life. She strikes up a friendship with one of her students who can also hear the hum. Feeling more and more isolated from their families and colleagues, they join a neighbourhood self-help group of people who can also hear the hum, which gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching and devastating consequences.
“The Listeners is at once a revery for the sublime, for the innocuous tapestry of sounds that make up the rhythms of our lives — and the pollution of sounds that can tear and devour. It is at once a masterful interrogation of the body, as well as the desperate violence that undergirds our lives in the era of social media, conspiracies, isolation, and environmental degradation. Tannahill writes as both poet and playwright, millennial and philosopher, as one who trains his reader to attune to the frequency of ‘the Hum’ to experience a rich hinterland beyond our embodied senses, beyond our perceptions of grace or faith. I leave listening, even to the silences, which are always screaming, and posit myself in my cochlea, forever now a conch, flaring and reeling, primordially,” the jury said in a statement.
Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author and theatre director. He has twice won the Governor General’s Literary Award for drama: in 2014 for Age of Minority and in 2018 for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom. He is also the author of the novel Liminal.
In Fight Night, nine-year-old Swiv lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and elderly grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma gives Swiv the task of writing to her absent father about what life is like in the house during her mother’s final trimester. In turn, Swiv tells Grandma, who knows what it costs to survive the world, to write a letter to her unborn grandchild.
“Miriam Toews’ compellingly crafted Fight Night is a testament to her astounding grasp of narrative voice. The emotional range exemplified on every page solidifies Toews as one of our most endearing, compassionate and prolific storytellers. Her young protagonist, nine year old Swiv, is expertly rendered with exacting grit and enviable humour. To read this examination of girlhood, family and mental wellness, is to become wholly enamoured with a cast of characters consistently demonstrating the power of exuberance and resiliency of love,” the jury said in a statement.
Miriam Toews is the author of seven novels, including Women Talking, All My Puny Sorrows, A Complicated Kindness and The Flying Troutmans. She has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Writers’ Trust Engel Findley Award. A Complicated Kindness won Canada Reads in 2006. Toews lives in Toronto.
16:26Miriam Toews on Fight Night