Watch the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize replay now
Souvankham Thammavongsa won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection How to Pronounce Knife.
The $100,000 prize is the richest in Canadian literature.Thammavongsa is a Toronto writer and poet. She was born in the (Lao) Nong Khai refugee camp in Thailand and was raised and educated in Toronto. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Paris Review and Noon. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's Cluster.
The 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize gala, which was held on Monday, Nov. 9, was hosted by actor Eric McCormack and featured musical guest Diana Krall.
"Thank you to the jury. I don't envy you, the decision must have been difficult and I'm so thankful to my fellow nominees... your brilliance is why this means so much," said Thammavongsa in her acceptance speech.
"Thank you to my mom and dad. Thirty-six years ago, I went to school and I pronounced the word 'knife' wrong, and I didn't get a prize. But tonight, there is one." she said.
The five finalists were:
- Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson
- Here the Dark by David Bergen
- Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
- How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
The longlist, shortlist and winner were selected by a five-person jury. Mark Sakamoto, author of the Canada Reads-winning memoir Forgiveness, is the jury chair. The panel also included Canadian novelists Eden Robinson, David Chariandy and Tom Rachman and British critic Claire Armitstead.
Last year's winner was Reproduction by Ian Williams.
Learn more about the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner and finalists below.
How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories, from a young man painting nails in a salon, to a housewife learning English from soap-operas. Capturing the daily lives of immigrants, Souvankham Thammavongsa captures their hopes, disappointments, trauma and acts of defiance.
Thammavongsa is a writer and poet. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Paris Review and NOON. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's Cluster. CBC Books named Thammavongsa a writer to watch in 2020.
Giller Prize jury citation: "How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose. The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one's footing in a new and strange land.
These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one's footing in a new and strange land.- 2020 Giller Prize jury
"Thammavongsa's fiction cuts to the core of the immigrant reality like a knife – however you pronounce it."
Ridgerunner is a novel about William Moreland, the notorious thief known as Ridgerunner, as he moves through the Rocky Mountains, determined to secure financial stability for his son. His son, Jack, is trapped in a life not of his own making. Semi-orphaned and under the care of a nun, Sister Beatrice, Jack has found himself in a secluded cabin in Alberta. Little does he know, his father is coming for him.
Adamson is a writer and poet. Her first novel, The Outlander, won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and was a Canada Reads finalist in 2009, when it was championed by Nicholas Campbell. She has published several volumes of poetry, including Primitive and Ashland.
Giller Prize jury citation: "The long-awaited sequel to Gil Adamson's hit The Outlander moves the action forward a decade, returning the 13-year-old son of the original protagonists to a forested land into which prisoners of the first world war are now hewing roads. The proximity of this new type of outlaw presents an existential threat to young Jack, who takes refuge in his parents' abandoned shack with a price on his head after escaping the toxic hypocrisies of 'civilisation'.
Adamson evokes a mythic landscape to frame the question: how is it possible to live a good life, when obedience to man-made laws is so at odds with love, loyalty and respect for the natural world?- 2020 Giller Prize jury
"Drawing richly on both the Western and on gothic fiction, Adamson evokes a mythic landscape to frame the question: how is it possible to live a good life, when obedience to man-made laws is so at odds with love, loyalty and respect for the natural world?"
In Here the Dark, David Bergen delivers short stories that interweave across space, exploring faith, loss and complex moral ambiguities. From Danang, Vietnam, to Honduras and the Canadian Prairies, the book collects narratives about place and heart. Here the Dark includes the story that won the 1999 CBC Short Story Prize, How Can n Men Share a Bottle of Vodka?
Bergen is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. In 2005, his novel The Time in Between won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. His other books include The Matter with Morris, and Stranger in 2016. His novel The Age of Hope was defended by Ron MacLean on Canada Reads in 2013.
Giller Prize jury citation: "A dying woman asks an aging rancher to become her last lover. A fishing boat sputters to a halt off the coast of Honduras, compelling its owner to decide the fate of his repellent client. A young woman in a puritanical religious community glimpses the coloured world outside, and must choose whether to close her eyes, or to run. Sexual loneliness and moral confusion pull at the delicately wrought characters in David Bergen's latest work, a story collection of masterly skill and tension.
Sexual loneliness and moral confusion pull at the delicately wrought characters in David Bergen's latest work, a story collection of masterly skill and tension.- 2020 Giller Prize jury
"His third appearance on the Giller shortlist – including the 2005 winner, The Time in Between – affirms Bergen among Canada's most powerful writers. His pages light up; all around falls into darkness."
Abandoning the city for the picturesque countryside, Priya and Alexandra attempt to give themselves a new lease on life in the novel Polar Vortex. That is, until Priya reveals that she is running from a fraught relationship with a friend who kept pursuing her: Prakash. After Priya feels safe enough to once again establish an online presence, Prakash communicates with her. Inexplicably, Priya asks Prakash to visit them.
Mootoo is a writer and visual artist who has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her debut novel was 1997's Cereus Blooms at Night.
Giller Prize jury citation: "A keen meditation on the complexities of identity and desire, Polar Vortex is the unsettling examination of a failing marriage. In a small, southern Ontario town, Priya impulsively invites an old suitor, Prakesh, to spend the night and his arrival triggers the fault lines in her relationship with Alexandra.
A keen meditation on the complexities of identity and desire, Polar Vortex is the unsettling examination of a failing marriage.- 2020 Giller Prize jury
"Conflicting wants and untold truths drag the past into the present. Memories cascade and clash as Mootoo masterfully dismantles the stories the narrators tell themselves in language as unsparing as winter."
The Glass Hotel interweaves several narratives together as it tells a story of financial corruption, greed and a massive Ponzi scheme. Vincent is a bartender in a prestigious hotel on Vancouver Island. When the owner — Jonathan Alkaitis — passes Vincent his card, it becomes the beginning of their story together. Meanwhile, a hooded figure scrawls a cryptic note on a wall in the hotel, and a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis — Leon Prevant — sees the note and is shaken. Thirteen years later, Vincent disappears from a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Inspired by the Bernie Madoff financial fraud scandal, the novel is a character study of people who profit and the lives that are compromised as a result.
Mandel is a New York-based Canadian writer. Her fourth novel, Station Eleven, was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the 2015 Toronto Book Award.
Giller Prize jury citation: "A boldly lyrical tale echoing the deceit and ruin of the 2008 financial crisis, The Glass Hotel brings together two restless siblings and a multi-billion-dollar investor as they each negotiate ambition, secrets, and loss within the kingdom of money. Bridging the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the shops and towers of Manhattan, and the netherworld of open waters, the novel commands a broad array of characters and a plot of kaleidoscopic intricacy.
Emily St. John Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others.- 2020 Giller Prize jury
"Here, in her eagerly anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others."