Raise your hand if you know what the Giller Prize is.
Now, put your hand down if you only know the Giller Prize as, “that event that Jian Ghomeshi was supposed to host before Ghomeshi-gate took over our newsfeeds.” I’m going to guess that only a handful of hands are still up.
For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Scotiabank Giller Prize was awarded earlier this week. It is a juried award given to a Canadian author for a fictionalized work published within the last year.
Established in 1994, past winners have included Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Vincent Lam’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, and the now-infamous Hellgoing by Lynn Coady.
This year, first-time novelist Sean Michaels was recognized for his book Us Conductors, a fictionalized account of theremin-inventor (an early electronic musical instrument) Leon Termen’s life.
This year, the monetary prize doubled to $100,000, making the Giller one of the most lucrative literary awards in the English-speaking world.
And yet, how many Canadians know about it? What’s worse, how many of us even care?
Canadian literature seems to be one of those things that we just do not seem to notice. It’s there, but not necessarily something that we need to devote too much of our time to.
I’m sure that if anyone asks, most Canadians will be able to harken back to their high school days and pull up the names of Can-lit icons like Margaret Atwood and Lucy Maud Montgomery. But once we leave high school, does anyone keep up with the Canadian literary and culture scene? Maybe the more important question is, should we be doing so?
My answer is yes, and here’s why.
In 2012, one of the Best Picture contenders for both the Academy Awards and Golden Globes was based on a Canadian novel. The film was widely recognised, earning over $600 million worldwide and winning countless accolades. That movie was Life of Pi, based on the book by Canadian author Yann Martel.
In 2013, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was highly-acclaimed Canadian author Alice Munro, who was recognised for being a “master of the contemporary short story.” Munro also won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and is the only author to have had a short story collection on the shortlist.
Safe to say, Canadian literature is making some pretty big waves. But that’s not the only reason we should be paying attention.
Particularly in the realm of arts and culture, the world seems content to forget that Canadians exist.
Case in point: remember when Argo, the Hollywood film about a fake movie crew in Iran seeking to help American hostages came out and there was all that fuss about how the film had neglected to adequately recognize Canada’s role in the mission? Even worse, remember how director Ben Affleck thought that an end card mention would appropriately address the situation?
In a more recent example, Jon Stewart’s Rosewater makes a singular offhand mention that its subject, Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari, holds Canadian citizenship. Even CNN veteran Christiane Amanpour, who interviewed Bahari and Stewart for the movie, incorrectly called the subject British-Iranian and never bothered to correct herself.
Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of this than I should be.
I’m just tired of the world seeing us as that place that produced Rob Ford and Jian Ghomeshi. I’m tired of hearing stories of people abroad saying, “You’re from Toronto? Yeah, I’ve heard about your mayor…”
I’m tired of people treating us as that country above the United States with maple syrup and that says “eh?” a lot, but doesn’t have much else going for it.
We have a wealth of Canadian cultural treasures that document who we are. We have a rich tapestry of experiences that define our existence. We have an incredible narrative and fascinating stories to tell.
Given all that we have to offer, isn’t it time that the world knew about us? Or closer still, isn’t it time that we knew?