November 17, 2009

On literary prizes

This morning I went to the announcement of the winners of the Governor General's Literary Awards at the Grande Bibliothèque. It was an interesting format in that it was part press conference, part ceremony: it was mostly attended by members of the media, but the writers and illustrators still crossed the stage and delivered acceptance speeches. The speeches were mostly decorous and deeply thankful. Some of the writers explained the origins of the ideas behind the works in question (one, I can't remember which now, started as a Grade 11 school assignment!). It was a cheery and inspiring way to start off the day, and I learned a little bit about a lot of books I might not otherwise know about.

I wanted to write about prizes today because November 17th will always be a special date for me. Exactly one year ago today, my name was called out at the Writers' Trust of Canada awards gala as it was announced I was the winner of the Journey Prize. A giant picture of my face went on the screen and I went onstage and delivered a giddy and probably mostly incoherent speech, much of which I can thankfully no longer remember. I didn't blog about it here when it happened because it seemed too magical to be real. It still does.

Somebody pinch me! (Photo courtesy of the Writers' Trust of Canada)

It felt particularly meaningful for me because I'd been buying and reading the McClelland & Stewart's Journey Prize Stories anthologies for years, and so many writers I admire have appeared in those volumes.

I know there is a lot of debate about the merits of literary prizes, and certainly the winner is always chosen by a subjective process, influenced by who-knows-what kind of internal processes between the jurors, but I think they're a good and necessary part of the literary culture in Canada. They help the writers, they help the readers make some headway in providing some guidance in what to choose, and they give us all something to talk about. Without prizes, there would be a lot less media coverage of literature in general.

And since it is awards season, after all, I'm going to go get ready to attend the QWF Awards gala (where last year I was not so lucky, but still had a fabulous time). It's not too late to come if you're in Montreal! Tickets are just $15 ($10 for students) at the door. The reception starts at 7 p.m., and the awards start at 8 p.m.

1 comment:

Jonathan Ball said...

hooray for prizes and saleema! my prizes have not been so prestigious but they are a ray of sunshine in the darkness of nobody caring.