Notes from the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury

June 13, 2019

We are half-way through the year and the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury is hard at work reading through the submissions for this year’s Prize. We checked in with them to ask if they could share a bit about the process so far. Here’s what they had to say:

Randy Boyagoda

“Reading novels submitted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize is a duty and a delight. The experience has configured itself into my daily life, whether I’m in Toronto or, as you can tell from this picture, at an 800-year-old villa in the mountains outside of Rome. By far, so far, the best experience I’ve had is one of discovery. Reading for excellence is one thing; reading for pleasure is another. I have been grateful for those moments – and books – in and through which I have discovered both.”

Aminatta Forna

“I read mainly at night or early in the morning which for most of us is when the demands of family and work make it possible. I try to read one hundred pages a day. I am not, anyway, a fast reader and it is important to me not to rush a book. Nothing can ruin the reading experience faster than reading under pressure – you see it happen with kids and college students all the time – but more than that it’s my view that thinking is often the greater part of reading. It’s important to let a good book percolate. I say that if you want to know a country, read its writers. I’m still figuring Canada out, but so far it appears to be a land of off-center characters traversing a hazardous landscape or staying home behind locked doors.”

Aleksandar (Sasha) Hemon

“I’ve been a juror only once before, and it was for Neustadt International Prize for Literature, which is for authors, not for books. That is to say that I never had to read upward of 100 books in six months and then form informed, defensible opinions to share with other people. There was some trepidation as to whether I’d be able to read so many books, and — more important — whether I’d be able to enjoy the reading. And it’s been great. There are so many books I’ve enjoyed, knowing full well that some of them might not make it to the shortlist. I’ve also enjoyed the discussions with my co-jurors — unsurprisingly, they are great readers, and talking to them, hearing and understanding their ways of reading has been extremely rewarding. Having said that, we’re only half-way done. I do look forward to arriving at our shared list and then having our final discussion.”

Donna Bailey Nurse

“I’ve judged several awards recently and I thought I might be getting a bit tired. But I’m actually really enjoying myself. The reading is intense, yet at the same time for me, strangely peaceful. There are so many personalities to deal with in publishing, it is nice to be able to focus in on the book and nothing else. I think the caliber of the writing is mostly high and so is the caliber of the conversation. For me, the conversation is the best part. I am a little in awe of my fellow jurors. They are not just smart, but also generous and funny. I get so serious sometimes and it is nice to be reminded by them about the importance of joy. I always imagined judging the Scotiabank Giller Prize would be a special experience and so far it is living up to the hype.”

José Teodoro

“Halfway through what’s been my most sustained immersion in our national literature by far, I’m struck by how many contenders nestle in these gullies where identity, mythology and genre hi-jinx intermingle. I’m also humbled by the same tricksy questions regarding literary merit that fall upon any jury such as ours, e.g. to what degree does a captivating voice rescue a wobbling narrative? Or, what makes a good story collection, as opposed to a collection of good stories? Sometimes I think my eyeballs are going to fall out. Mostly I’m grateful that to be a juror is to receive an education.”

Save the date – the 2019 longlist will be announced on Tuesday, September 3.

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