Miriam Toews, Omar El Akkad & Katherena Vermette among 12 authors longlisted for $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize

The $100,000 award annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction. Toews is being recognized for her novel Fight Night, El Akkad is nominated for his novel What Strange Paradise, while Vermette made the list for her novel The Strangers.
Miriam Toews (left), Omar El Akkad (centre) and Katherena Vermette are among 12 authors longlisted for $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize. (Carol Loewen, Kateshia Pendergrass, Vanda Fleury)

Miriam Toews, Omar El Akkad and Katherena Vermette are three of the 12 writers longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The $100,000 award annually recognizes the best in Canadian fiction.

Toews is being recognized for her novel Fight Night, El Akkad is nominated for his novel What Strange Paradise, while Vermette made the list for her novel The Strangers.

Three short story collections made the list: The Octopus Has Three Hearts by Rachel Rose, A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett and Glorious Frazzled Beings by Angélique Lalonde.

No previous winners cracked the longlist, but two previous finalists make appearances: Toews was previously a finalist in 2014 for All My Puny Sorrows, while Kim Thúy is nominated this year for Em. Thúy was previously a finalist in 2012 for Ru.

Three of the titles, Plett's A Dream of a Woman, Thúy's Em, and Vermette's The Strangers, have not yet been released. They will all be available by the end of September 2021.

Here is the full 2021 longlist:

The shortlist will be announced on Oct. 5, 2021 and the winner will be announced on Nov. 8, 2021.

The longlist was chosen from 132 books that were submitted for consideration this year.

Canadian writer Zalika Reid-Benta is chairing the five-person jury this year. Joining her are Canadian writers Megan Gail Coles and Joshua Whitehead, Malaysian writer Tash Aw and American writer Joshua Ferris.

"This extraordinary dozen showcases an ecstatic diversity of voices and styles, of narrative deployment and moral urgency, of formal innovation and old-fashioned storytelling pleasure," the jury said in a press statement.

"There is something for everyone on this list, but within each of these books there is to be found beauty, honest reckoning, human compassion and the irrefutable mark of the sublime. It was the jury's great honour to delight in the manifold achievements of these books, and with their announcement we leave this debate settled for another year: Canada's literature is as vibrant and expansive as ever."

Last year's winner was Souvankham Thammavongsa for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife.

Other past Giller Prize winners include Esi Edugyan for Washington BlackMichael Redhill for Bellevue SquareMargaret Atwood for Alias GraceMordecai Richler for Barney's VersionAlice Munro for RunawayAndré Alexis for Fifteen Dogs and Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Jack Rabinovitch founded the prize in honour of his late wife Doris Giller in 1994. Rabinovitch died in 2017 at the age of 87.

You can learn more about all 12 longlisted books below.

Astra by Cedar Bowers

Astra is a novel by Cedar Bowers. (Michael Christie, McClelland & Stewart)

Born and raised on a remote British Columbia commune, Astra Brine has long struggled to find her way in the world. As her path intersects with others over the years, she uncovers difficult truths about who they are and what they yearn for. 

Astra explores what we're willing to give and receive from others — and how well we ever really know the people we love the most. It reminds us of the profound impact that a woman can have on those around her and the power struggles at play in all our relationships. 

Cedar Bowers' fiction has been published in Joyland and Taddle Creek. Astra is her first novel. Bowers divides her time between Victoria and Galiano Island.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

What Strange Paradise is a novel by Omar El Akkad. (Kateshia Pendergrass, McClelland & Stewart)

What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don't share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, "How did we get here?" and "What are we going to do about it?"

Omar El Akkad is a Canadian journalist and author who currently lives in Portland. He is also the author of the novel American War, which was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by actor Tahmoh Penikett.

80 million people were displaced worldwide by mid-2020 — and as novelist Omar El Akkad sees it, that number will grow as climate change worsens. He joins Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss his latest novel What Strange Paradise.

Glorious Frazzled Beings by Angélique Lalonde

Glorious Frazzled Beings is a book by Angélique Lalonde. (House of Anansi Press)

In the short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, human and more-than-human worlds come together in places we call home. Among other tales, a ghost tends to the family garden, a shapeshifting mother deals with the complexities of love when one son is born with beautiful fox ears and another is not and a daughter tries to make sense of her dating profile after her mom dies. 

Angélique Lalonde is a B.C. writer whose work has been featured in PRISM International, the Journey Prize Anthology, Room and the Malahat Review, among other publications. She received the 2019 Writers' Trust Journey Prize and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. She was awarded an Emerging Writer's residency at the Banff Centre. She lives in Northern B.C. and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Victoria.

The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

The Son of the House is a novel by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia. (Dundurn Press)

The Son of the House is the story of two Nigerian women, the housemaid Nwabulu and the wealthy Julie. The two live very different lives, but when both are kidnapped and forced to spend days together in a dark, tiny room, they connect and keep hope alive through sharing the stories of their lives and finding common ground.

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic and writer who divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the House is her first novel.

A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett

A Dream of a Woman is a short story collection by Casey Plett. (Sy Billamb, Arsenal Pulp Press)

A Dream of a Woman is a collection of short stories revolving around transgender women who are looking for stable, adult lives. Taking place in prairie high-rises, New York warehouses, freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days, these takes explore partnership, sex, addiction, romance, groundedness and love.

A Dream of a Woman will be available on Sept. 21, 2021.

Casey Plett is a Windsor-based writer who was born in Manitoba and has lived in Oregon and New York. Her novel Little Fish won the Lambda Literary Award, Amazon First Novel Award and the Firecracker Award for Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love, was published in 2014.

The Octopus Has Three Hearts by Rachel Rose

The Octopus Has Three Hearts is a short story collection by Rachel Rose. (Douglas & McIntyre, Ayelet Tsabari)

The Octopus Has Three Hearts dives into the margins of human society and tells stories about damaged people who have committed, witnessed or survived terrible acts. From a goat farmer to a suburban adulterer, a violent child to a polyamorous marine biologist, the characters must make their way in an unforgiving world.

Rachel Rose is the author of four collections of poetry and a memoir, The Dog Lover. She is the poet laureate emerita of Vancouver and a poetry editor at Cascadia Magazine. Rose has won the Bronwen Wallace Award for fiction from The Writers' Trust and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. She lives in Vancouver.

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng

Swimming Back to Trout River is a novel by Linda Rui Feng. (Yanzhi Meng, Simon & Schuster Canada)

In Swimming Back to Trout River, Junie is a 10-year-old living in a village in Chin with her grandparents. Her parents left for America several years before. Her father has written her a letter, to let her know he will come back to get her before she turns 12. But Junie doesn't want to go. And she doesn't know how much her parents have changed. They have broken up, and are dealing with trauma from their past. But Junie's father is determined to make things right, and make sure Junie's future is brighter than his ever was.

Linda Rui Feng is an academic and writer, who is currently a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto. Swimming Back to Trout River is her first novel.

The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill

The Listeners is a novel by Jordan Tannahill. (Yuula Bernivolski, HarperCollins Canada)

In the novel The Listeners, Claire Devon is one of a disparate group of people who can hear a low hum. No one in her house can hear it, and this sound has no obvious source or medical cause, but it starts upsetting the balance of Claire's life. She strikes up a friendship with one of her students who can also hear the hum. Feeling more and more isolated from their families and colleagues, they join a neighbourhood self-help group of people who can also hear the hum, which gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching and devastating consequences. 

Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author and theatre director. He has twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for drama: in 2014 for Age of Minority and in 2018 for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom. He is also the author of the novel Liminal.

Jordan Tannahill was an acclaimed playwright — but not a dancer. Then he met Christopher House

3 years ago
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"He is at once my best friend, my brother, my queer father, my mentor, and my collaborator." Tannahill and House dance together on In the Making — stream the full episode now on CBC Gem.

Em by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman

Em is a novel by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman. (Random House Canada, Carl Lessard)

In the midst of a war, a young boy abandoned by a long-gone American soldier and living on the streets finds a baby abandoned in Saigon. The novel takes inspiration from historical events to sift through the layers of pain and trauma — revealing the invincibility of the human spirit.

Em will be available on Sept. 28, 2021.

Born in Saigon, Kim Thúy left Vietnam in a boat at 10 years old and settled with her family in Quebec. Her other novels include ViMan, and Ru, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2002. Ru also won Canada Reads 2015, when it was championed by Cameron Bailey. Her books have been translated into 29 languages and are available in 40 countries and territories.

Sheila Fischman is the translator of over 150 works of Quebec contemporary novels from French to English. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec.

Kim Thúy talks to Shelagh Rogers about her cookbook, Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen, which has recipes for food as fresh and vivid as the writing in her novels.

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Fight Night is the latest novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews. (Knopf Canada, Carol Loewen)

In Fight Night, nine-year-old Swiv lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for own elderly mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma gives Swiv the task of writing to her absent father about what life is like in the house during her mother's final trimester. In turn, Swiv tells Grandma, who knows what it costs to survive the world, to write a letter to her unborn grandchild. 

Miriam Toews is the author of seven novels, including Women TalkingAll My Puny SorrowsA Complicated Kindness and The Flying Troutmans. She has won the Governor General's Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Writers' Trust Engel Findley Award. A Complicated Kindness won Canada Reads in 2006. Toews lives in Toronto.

Bestselling Canadian author Miriam Toews sat down with Tom Power to discuss her highly anticipated new novel, Fight Night, and what it says about family, resiliency and the fight for mental health. Fight Night is out now.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

The Strangers is a novel by Katherena Vermette. (Vanda Fleury, Hamish Hamilton)

In The Strangers, readers are brought into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, the shared pain of their past and the light that shines from the horizon. After spending time in foster homes, Cedar goes to live with her estranged father. Being separated from her mother, Elsie, and her sister, Phoenix, is painful, but she's hoping for a new chapter in life. The three women diverge, reconnect and fight to survive in a system that expects them to fail.

The Strangers will be available on Sept. 28, 2021.

Katherena Vermette is a Red River Métis writer from Winnipeg. Her debut poetry collection, North End Love Songs, won the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. Her first novel, The Break, won the Amazon First Novel Award, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Prize and McNally Robinson Book of the Year. Vermette's other works include the poetry book river woman and the graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo.

Author Katherena Vermette brought along her baby girl Ruby when she dropped by our studio in Toronto to take The Next Chapter's Proust questionnaire.

We, Jane by Aimee Wall

Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland. We, Jane is her debut novel. (Richmond Lam, Book*Hug Press)

We, Jane is about a young woman named Marthe, who ends up befriending an older woman while living in Montreal. She learns about how the woman used to help young women in rural Newfoundland get abortions, and the two return to the island to continue this cause. But over time, things become more difficult, and more complicated, than Marthe ever imagined.

Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland who now lives in Montreal. Her translations include Vickie Gendreau's novels Testament and Drama Queens. We, Jane is her first novel.

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