Humber College faculty member Michael Redhill took home Canada’s top literary prize on Monday night for his novel Bellevue Square.
The Giller Prize has been awarded annually to Canadian authors since 1994 and has increased in value and prominence since partnering with Scotiabank in 2005.
Redhill was presented with a $100,000 cheque for winning the award and the runners-up are given $10,000 each.
“I’m still trying to answer the messages and texts that I got on Monday night…there’s been a lot of activity and it’s wonderful. I think I might be hearing from 90 per cent of every person I’ve ever met,” he said.
The creative writing professor at Lakeshore campus is a poet, author and playwright who was born in Baltimore, Md., and raised in Toronto.
He was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2001 for his novel Martin Sloane, but he said Bellevue Square is his stronger book.
Bellevue Square, published by Doubleday Canada, is described as a darkly comic literary thriller. It follows Toronto bookstore owner Jean Mason’s case of mistaken identity down a rabbit-hole of plot twists in Kensington Market that lead to the inside of her own psyche.
The awards gala on Monday was the deciding moment between Redhill and four other Canadian authors who had thrown their hats into the literary ring. The other finalists were Rachel Cusk for Transit, Ed O’Loughlin for Minds of Winter, Michelle Winters for I am a Truck and Eden Robinson with Son of a Trickster.
A jury selected the finalists from among 112 titles.
Redhill said winning the Giller Prize will “push the sales of the book immensely and it will create opportunities I might not have had any other way, it makes a huge difference.”
Prior to the Giller Prize victory, he had won multiple awards for his writing, including the Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2001 and the City of Toronto Book Award in 2007.
His first novel written under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe, The Calling, was made into a movie starring Susan Serandon in 2014.
Redhill said if Bellevue Square ever went to theatres, his choice for Jean Mason would be Australian actor Rose Byrne.
Redhill first dipped his pen into poetry, so by the time his first novel was published, he said he’d already found his voice.
When he’s not writing, he helps his students find their own voices in Humber’s Creative Writing program.
“To me, a writer’s voice is the thing that his or her work is imbued with. It’s a stamp of some kind, as unrepeatable as DNA. So, you don’t teach someone how to find a voice, you write until you recognize a connection between your unconscious self and your rational self,” he said.
Redhill began teaching at Humber College in the early ‘90s and has been associated with the college for about 25 years.
While he has a lot of writing experience to impart to students, he said his students have taught him about the importance of passion.
“That drive, that urgency that a lot of young writers have is something that you need to hold on to. Having a little bit of wildness and excitement about what you’re working on is something you need to keep, that’s something that they teach me,” Redhill said.
Bellevue Square will be the first in a trilogy, and Redhill is currently writing the sequel, Mason of Tunica, expected to be released in 2019.