Joseph Boyden wins $50K Giller Prize

Joseph Boyden joined the ranks of Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and M.G. Vassanji Tuesday night when he was named winner of the Giller Prize, Canada's richest award for fiction.

Author vows to 'always write about the First Nations'

Joseph Boyden waves from his table at the beginning of the Giller Prize gala in Toronto on Tuesday. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))
Joseph Boyden joined the ranks of Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and M.G. Vassanji Tuesday night when he was named winner of the Giller Prize, Canada's richest award for fiction .

The New Orleans-based author took home the $50,000 honour for his second novel, Through Black Spruce, a contemporary tale following a Cree woman's search for her missing sister, as well as an account of how drugs and violence plague life on a Northern Ontario reserve.

"I'm so deeply humbled to be counted among the writers here," Boyden said at the posh Toronto awards gala packed with a who's who of Canadian literature.

"This contribution to Canadian literature is just massive and just what Canada needs," he said of the prize.

Raised in the Toronto suburb of Willowdale, Boyden first made a splash on the literary scene with his debut novel Three Day Road, released in 2005. The First World War tale about two Cree snipers went on to win many accolades, including the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award as well as the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

In a biographical video portrait shown during the ceremony, Boyden referenced his mixed heritage (Irish, Scottish and Métis) and said that, in his writing, he sought to explore the spiritual and physical beauty present in his culture.

Winning the prestigious Giller Tuesday night "means that I am allowed to continue writing and I will always write about the First Nations of Canada and I will always celebrate and be behind the First Nations of Canada," Boyden said after his win. 

"And I will always push the message that we need to heal."

Fresh faces to the CanLit scene

Finalist Mary Swan was nominated for her debut effort, The Boys in the Trees. Her book won a Giller-related contest that required the public to guess the winning book in advance. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))
Relatively new writers — with few works under their belts — made up this year's short list. Though Boyden goes home with the $50,000 cheque, the four other finalists will each receive $5,000:
  • Rawi Hage (Cockroach)
  • Marina Endicott (Good to a Fault)
  • Mary Swan (The Boys in the Trees)
  • Anthony De Sa (Barnacle Love)

When he first contemplated establishing a literary prize, there was some worry about it simply "shuffling the same deck of Canadian writers," Giller founder Jack Rabinovitch recalled Tuesday night.

"That concern was laid to rest early on," the Toronto businessman said, adding that this year's finalists are "positive proof that the literary deck of Canadian fiction writers has expanded exponentially."

The black-tie audience counted past winners Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Austin Clarke among its numbers, while Giller laureates Alice Munro and Vincent Lam were among the evening's presenters.

Atwood, who has said this third stint as a Giller juror would be her last, was joined on the judging panel by fellow writer Colm Toibin and Liberal MP Bob Rae.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the lucrative prize, which Rabinovitch established to honour his late wife, Doris Giller, a literary journalist.

With files from the Canadian Press