What's the role of fiction in turbulent times? The Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists respond

Esi Edugyan, Patrick deWitt, Thea Lim, Sheila Heti and Eric Dupont talk about why fiction is essential in uncertain times.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted authors talk to Shelagh Rogers on stage at Calgary's Wordfest. (David Kotsibie/Wordfest)

The 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be awarded to one of five authors at a gala in Toronto on Nov. 19, 2018. The books shortlisted for the $100,000 prize are:

The five finalists gathered on stage at Calgary's Wordfest for a special Scotiabank Giller Prize panel, hosted by The Next Chapter's Shelagh Rogers.

They were asked: What role does fiction play during turbulent social and political times?

Patrick deWitt, author of French Exit

Patrick deWitt's latest novel is French Exit. (House of Anansi Press)
  

"It occurred to me how wonderful fiction had been for me as a young person because what fiction can do — or often does — is it forces you to consider the points of view of other people — people you'd never have met.

"This is an exercise in empathy. I think we need that now more than ever. It's a crucial tool in coming to understand all different types of people at a time when the point of view of other people isn't as front and centre as maybe it was before."

Eric Dupont, author of Songs for the Cold of Heart

Songs for the Cold of Heart is a novel by Eric Dupont, translated by Peter McCambridge. (Sarah Scott/QC Fiction)

"I wrote the book because I come from a family of storytellers and I don't have children I could tell these stories to. When I was writing the book I was thinking a lot about my nieces and nephews and the importance of them knowing what happened before — what was there before them — so that maybe they could get over themselves!

"You know, when they come tell me their 'problems,' I say, 'You wanna hear about problems? Let me tell you about these nuns!' I feel I have to play the role of the storyteller that my mother and my father played when I was a kid because they talked a lot… especially when they drank instant coffee."

Esi Edugyan, author of Washington Black

Washington Black is a novel by Esi Edugyan. (Tamara Poppitt/HarperCollins Canada)

"I think it's all too easy to deny the humanity of others, especially when they're hugely unlike ourselves. One of the things that fiction can do is put you into the feelings, the psyche, the body of somebody who is wholly unlike yourself. If you read this and you can start to see the similarities between your own experience and that of somebody wholly unlike you, I think that's very important."

Sheila Heti, author of Motherhood

Sheila Heti is the author of several books, including the novel Motherhood. (Malcolm Brown/Knopf Canada)

"It makes life worth living. You need something that points to the beautiful. I feel like art and politics run concurrently through time. They're concerns of every human being and they're concerns of every civilization and they need each other. Politics needs art to have perspective on the time, to have something to say that is about the time, but also transcend it.

"There's a way that art attaches us to epochs that have past; it takes us out of the intensity of the moment. I think there's a human need for art — for literature — that doesn't ever go away. If you think about the only thing that you can do in a time where one is so preoccupied with everything that's happening in the world, it gives you a larger perspective and connects you to other people."

Thea Lim, author An Ocean of Minutes

Thea Lim is a Toronto-based writer and teacher. (Elisha Lim/ Viking Canada)

"One thing that humans have always done is tell stories. I think there's something very comforting about immersing yourself in an internal form when things get very bleak — it gives us a sense that things will pass. But at the very least, I think, it's a form of productive escape."

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