Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight:
Esi Edugyan won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011 for her novel Half-Blood Blues. The novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She author lives in Victoria, BC.
Esi has been selected for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist for his novel, Washington Black.
What/who inspires you to write?
In general, finding little-known figures or events – the footnotes of history – has always been a huge drive for me. My husband’s also a writer, and his rigour and discipline are also a great example to me. I have to try to keep up.
Do you have a favourite passage/quote from a book?
I’m away from my library right now, so it’s impossible to quote directly, but I do remember loving the blunt despair of the opening sentences of VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.
Where is your favourite place to write?
At home, in my office, during those few hours of the day when my children are out of the house. I’ve also got a favourite cafe, the Broken Paddle, which has the added benefit of great food and a coziness reminiscent of my father’s living room.
Is there an activity you do to help inspire your writing?
Reading a beautifully written piece of prose, whether fiction or nonfiction, always settles the mind and challenges you. Research can also be a great inspiration.
Do you have a tradition for every time you finish a book?
Not a desirable one! I tend to think I’m going to rush ahead and start the next one immediately, but the writing always goes poorly, as the ghost of the book I’ve just written overshadows everything. And so I just fret and pace and am generally in a state of aggravation for weeks. It’s impossible to relax.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink. It was a harrowing nonfiction account of a hospital floundering amidst the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. A small group of doctors and nurses made the morally questionable decision to end the lives of some of their critically ill patients while an evacuation was in process. Difficult but required reading.
What is your favourite CanLit read?
There are too many choices! To name a few: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler, The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway by Alice Munro, Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. I could go on.
What inspired you to write your Scotiabank Giller Prize nominated book?
I had originally set out to write about the Tichborne Claimant criminal trials, which were a cause célèbre in the 1860s – 1870s England. I set out to tell the story from the perspective of an ex-slave who’d been a servant at the Tichborne estate and who later served as the defense’s main witness in an early trial. But the deeper I got into that first draft, the more I understood that I was not so much interested in the machinations of the trials than in the voice of a man like Bogle, a man who’d been taken quite suddenly and unexpectedly out of slavery and thrown into a world that was so resoundingly different from all that he’d known. And this became Washington Black.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
A sense of having accompanied a young man on his journey to becoming a fully realized human being.
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