That Time I Decided I Was Over the Giller Prize

So, the Giller Prize shortlist came out this morning. Here are the nominated authors:


or to put it another way


Lest you think this is just a fluke, head on over to Lé and get schooled, son. The Giller Prize is pretty bad at shortlisting writers of colour. Pretty really bad.

This would all be par for the course in the Canadian literary landscape, but it comes just two weeks after the Internet exploded over David Gilmour’s incendiary interview with Hazlitt, where he freely admitted (“bragged” might be a better word) to only teaching books by “serious, heterosexual guys” and avowed his disinterest in teaching books by women (or Chinese people) (?!?!?!).

Gilmour was raked over the coals. Twitter exploded. It was one of the very few times I can remember seeing something related to Canadian literature on Jezebel. He was on the front cover of the Toronto Sun

None of this was unjustified. They were stupid, sexist, racist remarks, made even worse by his non-apologetic apology. But when the Giller Prize longlist was released, and it was a bunch of white people (and Joseph Boyden)? Nothing. And when the shortlist was released, and it was actually all a bunch of white people? Nothin’! Seriously, go search the #GillerPrize hashtag and let me know how many people mention it.

That’s really what aggravates me the most. The extreme whiteness of the Giller shortlist (not just this year, but most years) is something we should be talking about, because publishing has a problem with diversity, and this is one of the problems! Why does it keep happening? What can we do about it?

The only possible conclusion to be drawn from the David Gilmour outcry and the following Giller Prize radio silence is that, in Canada, it’s fine to only read books by white people, and it’s fine to only honour books by white people, as long as you don’t explicitly say that that’s what you’re doing, and make like it’s just a big coincidence.

(Yes, yes, I know—one of the jurors is Esi Edugyan! None of this should be interpreted as an attack on this year’s jurors. Esi Edugyan is amazing and if I ever run into Margaret Atwood on the street I will probably first scream, then cry, then sit her down on a bench and tell her all my problems. I don’t know anything about Jonathan Lethem but I hear his books are very good. This problem goes way beyond this year’s shortlist, or the selectors thereof. And, as Léonicka points out, the lack of diversity on the shortlist could have as much to do with what books the publishers choose to submit for consideration as the books the jurors choose to honour. We don’t know, because nobody talks about it!)

Giller Prize–nominated books are usually really good and really well written and really excellent. But I just have trouble believing that there are so few books by people of colour that are equally worthy of consideration. I mean, Richard Wagamese has never been nominated. Richard Wagamese!!!

I dare you to read this book and not cry/barf.

More than anything, I just wish people would talk about this. I wish they would talk about how white-dominated publishing is, whether and why that’s a problem, what the solutions are, if any. If there’s one good thing to be said about David Gilmour, it’s that he at least caused a conversation.

I have no idea how to end this post so I’ll let Taystee take us out.

Disclaimer: I have no evidence that Jack Rabinovitch, anyone on the Giller Prize jury, or the fine people at Scotiabank actually hate black folks.

2 thoughts on “That Time I Decided I Was Over the Giller Prize

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