National literary award shortlist announced

“It is one of the longest running and earliest established literary awards in Canada,” explained Tanis MacDonald, an associate professor in Laurier’s English department, regarding the Governor General’s literary awards. Canada’s literary best have made the list of finalists for the 2010 awards, which was released on Oct. 13.

The award was established by author John Buchan, the Lord Tweedsmuir and 15th Governor General of Canada in 1937. The award is currently administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.

There are a total of 1,702 books eligible for this year’s award, an increase of 161 works over last year.

Of those, 70 finalists were chosen and 14 will win across five categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation.

Kitchener native and University of Waterloo professor, John English has been nominated in the English acclaimed biography section. The author, who had a career in Canadian politics, is nominated for his second volume in his ongoing chronicle of Pierre Trudeau’s life, entitled Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-2000.

The book is up against four others in for the English-language non-fiction prize, which includes offerings by writers from Toronto and Saskatoon.
Top winners in each category receive $25,000 and each finalist takes home $1,000, courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts. But winning the award means more to an author than just financial gain.

“Looking at those who have won it multiple times, Alice Munroe, certainly Margret Atwood…and Michel Ondaatje…winning [the Governor General’s Award] can often be a precursor to winning bigger international awards,” suggested MacDonald. “Even though its no longer the most monetarily lucrative award — that’s the [Scotiabank] Giller Prize — it remains the most prestigious.”

The winner of the award ultimately comes down to the taste of the peer jury who makes the final selections.

“I think its interesting that there’s four women and one man on the [English language fiction] list,” said MacDonald. The list as a whole contains more than twice as many female nominations, with women taking 45 of the available 70 slots.

Female authors seem to be getting a lot of attention in Canada right now. Kathleen Winter’s Annabel was nominated for the Governor General’s award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Writer’s Trust Award this year. “That’s considered a great literary coup. When awards season comes around, these are the things everyone is talking about.”

Who will win in any of the categories is impossible to guess. There is no one type of book that always wins. “If there was,” said MacDonald, “then everyone would be trying to write that type of book.”

Award categories

  • Fiction
  • Poetry
  • Drama
  • Non-fiction
  • Children’s literature – text
  • Children’s literature – illustration
  • Translation

Awards are given in both English and French language categories. All information courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts.