On November 8th, the announcement was made at a black-tie dinner and awards ceremony for the latest winner of the Giller Prize. Broadcast live on CBC, Scotia Bank named Esi Edugyan as the 2011 winner.
Edugyan’s book, Half-Blood Blues, was published by Thomas Allen. Its earlier acceptance at Key Porter came up in her interview at Studio Q the next morning.
The neat thing about the Internet is having the opportunity to watch the event and press coverage days after the ceremony. The reporter interviewing Edugyan asked her how she felt about winning, pointing out not only the honour, but also the $50,000 prize money and also that her book would be in great demand.
The thrilled author was nevertheless humble and stated that she would have time for her little daughter who was born earlier this year. On watching the actual footage of the announcement, I noticed the disbelief, excitement and awe on her face when her name was called. Her response reflected those emotions as she struggled to put words to her acceptance. “Miraculous” was one of the words she used.
In her interview the next morning at Studio Q, she shared more about her publication journey with Half-Blood Blues. The book was actually in production with reading copies and a cover design completed when Key Porter made its announcement to suspend publishing operations. What a feeling that must have been for authors who had signed contracts and editors who had worked hard to make those manuscripts the best they could be. Authors, wondering if their book would ever be published, and editors, if they would be paid for the work they had put into their projects.
Edugyan said that she had no publisher for the book for 2-3 months and that there was a possible contract in Britain. She wanted a Canadian publisher, since Canada is her home, and was pleased when Thomas Allen took it on and rushed it to press early in the fall. She was equally as pleased when she learned the wide range of people reading her book.
When the radio announcer asked how she had made the voices and language sound so real, Edugyan said that she had read biographies of Louis Armstrong and another book that had been dictated by a jazz musician as he lay very ill. She studied the language of jazz musicians to get the cadence right and also invented some of the dialog herself. Of other details, she said, “My desire is to be as historically accurate as possible.”
Edugyan was “utterly astonished” to be chosen, with Michael Ondaatje, one of her literary heroes sitting behind her at the event. She had written a few things on paper, notes to herself about whom to thank if she should win, but not a real speech. Her humility was notable.
All of this makes me think of another contest—The Word Guild Awards and Gala— that celebrate excellence in writing. That is, after all, what contests are about—to recognize writers who have been working hard to improve their craft and contribute to a body of writing. While this awards contest may not have the same stature as the Giller, Booker and other public prizes, we can nevertheless, recognize and raise the bar among Canadian writers who are Christian.
Acknowledging that awards acceptance speeches are expected of winners, being ready rings true with this Toastmaster. Those who make the short list would be well advised to prepare a speech, for the emotion of such a moment will surely take over, as it did for Edugyan.
To say our writing is a gift from God is not enough. We have to be willing to revise and polish and make our writing the best it can be, in whatever genre we write. That’s where writer’s conferences, critique groups and continued writing and learning come in. When we use our gift well, we can inspire, entertain and educate with class—and change the world.
As for black tie dinners and awards— imagine yourself there on stage, delighted and surprised, like Esi Edugyan. Then get your entry into the contest. http://www.thewordguild.com/contestsawards/