Books·Canadian

The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr

The Sleeping Car Porter, Suzette Mayr's sixth novel won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The Sleeping Car Porter won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize

The Sleeping Car Porter brings to life an important part of Black history in North America, from the perspective of a gay man living in a culture that renders him invisible in two ways. Affecting, imaginative, and visceral enough that you'll feel the rocking of the train, The Sleeping Car Porter is a stunning accomplishment.


Baxter's name isn't George. But it's 1929, and Baxter is lucky enough, as a Black man, to have a job as a sleeping car porter on a train that crisscrosses the country. So when the passengers call him George, he has to just smile and nod and act invisible. What he really wants is to go to dentistry school, but he'll have to save up a lot of nickel and dime tips to get there, so he puts up with "George."

On this particular trip out west, the passengers are more unruly than usual, especially when the train is stalled for two extra days; their secrets start to leak out and blur with the sleep-deprivation hallucinations Baxter is having. When he finds a naughty postcard of two gay men, Baxter's memories and longings are reawakened; keeping it puts his job in peril, but he can't part with the postcard or his thoughts of Edwin Drew, Porter Instructor. (From Coach House Books)

Suzette Mayr is a poet and novelist based in Calgary. She is the author of the novels Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley HallMonocerosMoon HoneyThe Widows and Venous HumMonoceros won the ReLit Award, the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Book Prize and made the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

The Sleeping Car Porter won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page inThe Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary.- 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury

From the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury: "Suzette Mayr brings to life — believably, achingly, thrillingly — a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly 100 years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary. The sleeping car porter in this sleek, stylish novel is named R.T. Baxter — called George by the people upon whom he waits, as is every other Black porter. Baxter's dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr's triumphant novel we follow him not only from Montreal to Calgary, but into and out of the lives of an indelibly etched cast of supporting characters, and, finally, into a beautifully rendered radiance."

Why Suzette Mayr wrote The Sleeping Car Porter

"One of the things that I want people to take away from this book is to be nice to people in the service industry. It's important that Black people become part of the fabric of the history of this country. It gets a little tiring when the only time you talk about it is in February because it's Black History Month. It's every month. It's everywhere. 

It's really important that Black people become part of the fabric of the history of this country.- Suzette Mayr

"It's all the time, and it's not necessarily about Black pain or suffering or victimhood. The porters were important in helping to establish a Black middle class, one that had a ton of impact in all kinds of ways including labour rights.

"This particular group worked really hard to get ahead. I'm not necessarily related to one of these porters, as far as I know, but they've paved the way for me in all kinds of ways.

"Black history matters, every month of the year."

Read the full interview with CBC Books.

Interviews with Suzette Mayr

A Calgary writer's latest book has been shortlisted for the 2022 Giller Prize. Suzette Mayr's historical novel about a queer Black railway employee is up for the biggest prize in Canadian literature. Mayr joins us to talk about the nomination.
It's Canada's biggest literary prize with a cash purse of $100,000. The morning after the Scotiabank Giller Prize was awarded, Tom Power caught up with this year's winner, Suzette Mayr, for a chat about her award-winning novel The Sleeping Car Porter.

Giller winner Suzette Mayr wrote story of 'Black joy' she couldn't find

23 days ago
Duration 7:09
Suzette Mayr has won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Sleeping Car Porter, the story of a gay Black man in 1929 who works as a porter on a train that travels across the country.

Other books by Suzette Mayr

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now