Whew! What a week for the Department of Writing. First, longtime instructor and beloved poet Lorna Crozier received the Order of Canada at a ceremony in Ottawa Friday night, then acting chair and acclaimed playwright Joan MacLeod won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize for Theatre on Monday night—now, Writing graduate and former instructor Esi Edugyan has won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her book, Half-Blood Blues. With a prize of $50,000, the Giller is awarded annually to Canada’s best English-language novel.
“A prize like this does so much to promote literature in Canada and the world,” Edugyan said in her acceptance speech. “It’s been the greatest privilege to be one of the nominees and to be shortlisted with such brilliant writers.” Like Edugyan, fellow nominee Patrick DeWitt was also on the same four-award shortlist—the Giller, the Man Booker Prize, the Writers Trust Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award; DeWitt won the Writers Trust, and the Governor General’s will be announced next week.
Focusing on four black jazz musicians in Nazi-occupied Germany, Half-Blood Blues is the second novel for the Colwood-based Edugyan, who is married to award-winning poet, author and UVic Department of Writing instructor Steven Price. As well as being a Writing graduate, Edugyan was also a sessional instructor with the Department for two years, specializing in fiction writing. (Edugyan and Price also celebrated the birth of their first child in late August of this year, making the past two months a dizzying time indeed.)
The Giller jury praised Half-Blood Blues as a “joyful lament,” noting that “any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes.” Ironically, while Half-Blood Blues had been released in England earlier this year, it was almost not published in Canada following the bankruptcy of original publisher Key-Porter Books. “The book was actually homeless for a few months until it was bought by Thomas Allen Publishers,” Edugyan said back in August. “It was intensely worrying; I love the Brits, and I love my editor there, but when you write a book, you really want to be published in your own country, to make an impact in your own sphere.”
In addition to her BA from UVic, Edugyan has a Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and she has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain and Belgium. Her well-received debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was also published internationally, and her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003 and Revival: An Anthology of Black Canadian Writing (2006).
The other Giller Prize finalists, each of whom receive a $5,000 prize, include David Bezmozgis (The Free World), Lynn Coady (The Antagonist), Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers), Zsuzsi Gartner (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives) and Michael Ondaatje (The Cat’s Table). The Giller was founded by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994 in memory of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.
Other notable prizes for the Department of Writing this year include alumnus DW Wilson‘s
£15,000 win of the BBC National Short Story Prize (nearly $24,000 Canadian) and current student Erin Fisher‘s $2,000 first-place win in the PRISM International poetry and fiction contest, plus retired Writing prof Jack Hodgins recent City of Victoria Butler Book Prize win. Congratulations to all!