Governor General Literary Awards announced: Joel Thomas Hynes wins top English fiction prize

The winners of the 2017 Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced, with Newfoundland's Joel Thomas Hynes taking home the top fiction prize.

Canada Council for the Arts picks 14 titles from 70 finalists in English and French

We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes is the winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for English fiction. (HarperCollins)

The winners of the 2017 Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced, with Joel Thomas Hynes of St. John's taking home the English fiction prize.

Hynes, told CBC's On the Go on Wednesday that when he was writing the book, laudatory reviews and awards were the farthest thing from his mind.

"I was thinking about, man, getting to the end of the book, you know?" he said. "Getting through the night, getting it right, getting this monster out of my system … It was a day-to-day thing for me. I really had no expectations beyond eventual publication."

I've been making a go of it on the fringes of the arts for a long time.- Joel Thomas Hynes

The publication process was a "long, long journey" for him, he said.

"I'd go into a draft, and when I'm inside a draft of a book or if I'm on a big project or anything like that, I just vanish into it, and I don't think much outside of it. I don't even consider the reader all that much," he said. "I'm more or less just trying to get in touch with something inside."

Making the long list for the Giller Prize was a shock, he said, but it made him realize he wanted something more for the book. Being a finalist for the Governor General's award was way outside his aspirations.

Thought it was an error

"I don't consider myself that kind of writer, even," he said. "I've been making a go of it on the fringes of the arts for a long time. Even if I'm perceived to be successful in different fields, I still feel like I'm on the fringes and I'm very unconventional."

The Canada Council for the Arts announced the winners Wednesday morning, picking 14 winning entries out of 70 English and French finalists.

Hynes said when he got the call that he'd won, he assumed it was an administrative error.

"I said, 'Are you sure? Just check your papers again.' She said, 'Oh, no, we're sure. It's all good.' So it took me a while to absorb it, process it, trying to figure out what it means to me as a writer, what it means to me professionally, and ultimately I'm under no illusions that it changes what the next book is. It doesn't make writing easier.

"I don't know if it's a game-changer or if you go right back to the bottom rung and start clawing your way up again because I could very easily not get it right next time."

The Governor General's Literary Awards have been handed out for 81 years and are considered the most prestigious literary prizes in the country. Each winner receives a $25,000 prize and the publisher gets $3,000 to go towards promotions. Non-winning finalists get $1,000.

Winners

Thomas Hynes's We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night, described in a release from the Canada Council as a portrait of a man's hilarious yet disturbing journey from St. John's to Vancouver, is the winner of the English fiction category.

Richard Harrison's On Not Losing my Father's Ashes in the Flood took home the top poetry prize, Hiro Kanagawa's Indian Arm was the winner under the drama genre and The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State by Graeme Wood was the pick for non-fiction.

Other English-language winners were The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (young people's literature- text), When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett (young people's literature - illustrated books) and Readopolis by Oana Avasilichioaei (French to English translation).

French winners

The French-language winners are as follows:

  • Fiction: Le poids de la neige – Christian Guay-Poliquin
  • Poetry: La main hantée – Louise Dupré
  • Drama: Dimanche napalm – Sébastien David
  • Non-fiction: Les Yeux tristes de mon camion – Serge Bouchard
  • Young People's Literature - Text: L'importance de Mathilde Poisson – Véronique Drouin
  • Young People's Literature - Illustrated Books: Azadah – Jacques Goldstyn
  • Translation (from English to French): Un barbare en Chine nouvelle – Daniel Poliquin