On November 20, 2017, I won Canada's largest literary prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, for my novel, Bellevue Square. It came with a whopping $100,000 Canadian dollars, an amount of money most professional writers would be lucky to earn from their writing in five years. I had a similar figure in debt, and just as 2016's winner André Alexis joked, winning the prize got me back to even. It's an incredible feeling to pay off your debt! Increased book sales and my value to my publisher will help keep me going for a period I don't usually have the luxury of imagining. All this is up to the prize.
I'm the twenty-fifth winner of the Giller (after in 2000, 2 winners took the honour). I'm in hallowed company, company I hope I earn my place in. I know or have known almost all of the winners who have won this prize. They were first my idols, then my teachers, then my friends. And then members of my own cohort began to win it. To be counted among these fellows is something that every fiction writer in the country has wondered about or hoped for. I'm proud and glad to be part of the history of the prize as it goes into its twenty-fifth year.
This year's nominees will spend a lot of time together, doing readings and appearances in Canada, New York, and London, as part of the Scotiabank Giller Prize's Between the Pages tour. If that group is anything like the one I was in, they'll form a quick bond over the excitement as well as the surreality of being treated so well by the Giller team and Scotiabank! It was wonderful to meet readers all over the country, and to read to packed houses everywhere. A year later, I am still in touch with my fellow nominees. That would have been true no matter who won, because by the time the tour was done, we were all friends.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize bought me time in which to work and plan how to stay afloat beyond the usual month or two. Writers, compassing the ones who do nothing else for a living as well as the ones who have another job, are generally poor. It's not just an occupational hazard, it's a job description. It's always been hard to make a living as an artist, or to make art while depending on a job to stay afloat. If it matters enough, people will figure out ways to cobble a life together, a life that often includes poverty and recovering from it. The writing life is a series of emotional, reputational, social, and financial roller coasters. But if I'd known all of this at the age of twenty, I'd still want to do it.
Bellevue Square is my sixteenth book. I've been fortunate in my career to catch an updraft here and there, receive a grant, get a good writing or editing gig. I crazy-quilt my life, like a lot of writers do, and over time, I've developed a talent for living close to the bone, skimming zero but never getting to it. My friends and family give each other strength and we help each other out. Prizes are a small part of the writing landscape, if only because so few writers benefit from them. Otherwise books have short shelf-lives and long destinies and the humans who get to write them are lucky people, no matter the cost or the benefit.