Esi Edugyan wins the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize for Washington Black

The Victoria, B.C.-based writer is now a two-time winner of Canada's richest literary prize.
Esi Edugyan is the author of the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Washington Black. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Esi Edugyan has won the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, a $100,000 literary award, for Washington Black. It's the second time she's won the prize.

The Calgary-born, Victoria, B.C.-based writer Edugyan's third novel, Washington Black, follows an 11-year-old boy known as "Wash" who is enslaved on a Barbados sugar plantation. His master is Englishman Christopher Wilde, who is obsessed with developing a machine that can fly. When a man is killed, Wilde must choose between his family and saving Black's life — and the choice results in an epic adventure around the world for Wash.

"I just have to say that in a climate in which so many forms of truth telling are under siege, this feels like a wonderful and important celebration of words," said Edugyan in her acceptance speech.

The novel was also shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Edugyan also won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues. The book was also a Canada Reads contender in 2014, when it was defended by Donovan Bailey. 

The 2018 jury was comprised of Canadian writers Kamal Al-Solaylee and Heather O'Neill, Toronto International Film Festival executive Maxine Bailey, English novelist Philip Hensher and American writer John Freeman. 

The jurors had this to say about Washington Black: "[In the novel's] vivid and complex world — as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas — Edugyan has written a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives."

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is the richest literary award for a work of fiction in Canada, with the winner taking home $100,000. The remaining finalists each receive $10,000. The prize, which has been awarded annually since 1994, was founded by the late Jack Rabinovitch, who died in 2017 at the age of 87.

Edugyan was presented with the $100,000 award by Elana Rabinovitch, the daughter of Jack Rabinovitch, and Scotiabank's executive vice president and chief marketing officer John Doig.

Edugyan's fellow finalists included Patrick deWitt for French Exit, Thea Lim for An Ocean of Minutesand Eric Dupont for Songs of the Cold of Heart, which was translated from French by Peter McCambridge and Sheila Heti for Motherhood.

The 2017 winner was Michael Redhill for novel Bellevue Square. Past Giller Prize winners include Rohinton Mistry for A Fine Balance, Margaret Atwood for Alias Grace, Mordecai Richler for Barney's Version, Alice Munro for Runaway, André Alexis for Fifteen Dogs and Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Watch the full gala, hosted by Rick Mercer

Rick Mercer hosts the 25th anniversary Scotiabank Giller Prize gala. Five books are up for Canada's richest literary prize. 59:59

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