Books

What's it like judging the Scotiabank Giller Prize? Jury chair Kamal Al-Solaylee tells us all about it

The 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist was announced Oct. 1, 2018 and is comprised of Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, Patrick deWitt's French Exit, Thea Lim's An Ocean of Minutes, Eric Dupont's Songs for the Cold of Heart and Sheila Heti's Motherhood.
Kamal Al-Solaylee is the jury chair for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize. (Gary Gould, HarperCollins Canada)

The 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist was announced Oct. 1, 2018 and is comprised of Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, Patrick deWitt's French Exit, Thea Lim's An Ocean of Minutes, Eric Dupont's Songs for the Cold of Heart and Sheila Heti's Motherhood.

One of these five finalists will go onto win $100,000 on Nov. 19, 2018, when the winner is revealed at a gala event in toronto, which is broadcast on CBC television, CBC Radio and livestreamed at CBC Books.

The shortlist and eventual winner are selected by a five-member jury 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. 

Following the finalist announcement on Oct. 1, 2018, jury chair Al-Solaylee spoke with CBC Radio's Doug Dirks on The Homestretch  about the 2018 shortlist, and the work that went into compiling it.

Al-Solaylee is a professor at Ryerson University and the author of the books Intolerable and Brown.

A sense of relief... and responsibility 

"There's a sense of relief that [the shortlist] is finally out in the open. It feels like I've been holding onto this secret for far too long. I must admit, I had butterflies in my stomach for days because I knew there were five people who would be happy with this announcement and seven who would be disappointed. You know that no matter what you do, you've made some people happier with the announcement, and some less so. 

"There were some very difficult decisions and some books that didn't make the cut. I was very sad to see that some of my favourite books didn't make it, and same with some of the other jurors' favourite books. But I'd like to think we're all very proud of this shortlist." 

A search for the surprising

"I was looking for writers who were working within a certain genre and trying to turn it on its head or do something different with it. Perhaps that's why a book like Thea Lim's An Ocean of Minutes is so appealing to me because it is speculative fiction — not a genre I would normally gravitate towards — but it just grabbed me and I kept reading and reading. Eric Dupont's big family saga was also the kind of book you just can't put down because you want to know what happens and it's full of magic and wit and whimsy that you just wonder: how is this all going to come together? I was looking for that, plus I was always looking for a book that had its heart and its mind in the right place — that tried to say something about the world we live in now." 

A diverse batch of finalists

"We have five somewhat different books on this list. For example, a book like Motherhood by Sheila Heti is hard to classify, because it's clearly fiction, but it's also an essay and somewhat polemic. Then you have two books — Esi Edugyan's Washington Black and Eric Dupont's Songs for the Cold of Heart — which I would call epics. But they're also very different, because Esi's book is a more intimate epic set over about 10 years in the early 19th century and it's the story of a slave and a friendship. Whereas Eric's book spans about 100 years in Quebec and is full of magic and wonder. And then you have Thea Lim who wrote what would ostensibly be described as speculative fiction with An Ocean of Minutes, but it's really just a pure love story. And then finally, we have Patrick deWitt whose charming novel French Exit is a comedy — or tragedy — of manners." 

Kamal Al-Solaylee's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

Jury chair Kamal Al-Solaylee talks to CBC Radio's Doug Dirks about what went into choosing the five 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize finalists. 6:52

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