Elizabeth Hay wins the Giller Prize

Ottawa writer Elizabeth Hay has won the Giller Prize, Canada's richest literary award, for her book Late Nights on Air.

Ottawa writer Elizabeth Hay has won the Giller Prize, Canada's richest literary award, forher book Late Nights on Air.

The $40,000 Giller Prize was handed out at a gala hosted bySeamus O'Reganin Toronto Tuesday evening.

"I'm very thrilled and very lucky," she said, after accepting the award. "So lucky in fact, I'll probably be hit by a truck tomorrow."

"What we're really celebrating beneath all the glitter is the old-fashioned, time-honoured book," she added.

"I'd like to congratulate everyone who has written a book this year, because we are all united in the belief that writing books and reading books makes life more meaningful."

Hay, 55, describes her own book as "a man hears a voice on the radio and falls in love."

Late Nights on Air is the sometimes comic, sometimes tragictale centred onthe cast of characters at a small radio station in the Canadian North.

She says it is not autobiographical, though it has elements from her own experience working asa CBC Radio journalist in Yellowknife in the 1970s.

"I wanted to go back to that time in the North — the 1970s," she said, recalling herself as aself-conscious young journalist in a filmed segment shown during the awards ceremony.

Pinned to the wall in the station where she worked was a note: "Do you ever wonder where your voice goes?" which became an inspiration for this book.

"The North has kind of leaked into my writing at various stages, but I wanted to really try to do it justice in a way I never had done before."

Haycreated a set of memorable characters, drawn by the prospect of a fresh start to populate a North she remembers as ruggedly beautiful.

The jury hailed the book as "flawlessly crafted, a timeless story masterfully told."

"What a castof characters," said jury member David Bergen. "It's as if she took a cast of characters and she found a room to put them in and that room is the North."

This year's Giller short list featured two previous winners. The other nominees were:

  • Two-time Giller winner M.G. Vassanji of Toronto for The Assassin's Song, the story of a family who tend a medieval Sufi shrine in India and a boy who is haunted by that legacy when he gives it up for an "ordinary" life.
  • Previous winner Michael Ondaatje, of Toronto, for Divisadero, about a family divided by an act of violence and one daughter's fascination with the world of a writer from an earlier time.
  • Daniel Poliquin, of Ottawa, for A Secret Between Us, translated by Donald Winkler, thestory of a young man who joins the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry to fight in the First World War and his post-war experiences in a poor district of Ottawa.
  • Alissa York of Toronto for Effigy, about a young Mormon woman fascinated with the art of taxidermy until asked to work on a family of wolves.

The jury members for this year's Giller Prize were Bergen and fellow authors Lorna Goodison and Camilla Gibb.

They met to determine the winner just before the ceremony.

The Giller Prize was created in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

Two years ago, Scotiabank became a sponsor and boosted total prize money to $50,000. The winner receives $40,000 while the other finalists receive $2,500 each.