Finalist David Bergen hopes Giller Prize carves out a ‘bit of joy’ in a tough year

Finalist David Bergen hopes Giller Prize carves out a ‘bit of joy’ in a tough year

TORONTO — This may be David Bergen’s fifth nomination for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, but the former winner says securing a spot on this year’s short list felt like far from a guarantee.

“There’s always the anxiety around it,” Bergen said by phone from Winnipeg on Monday after being announced as one of five finalists in the running for the $100,000 honour.

“No matter how you coach yourself, and say, ‘you know, it doesn’t matter’ and stuff like that, it does matter. Because that’s what we do. We write books and hope they get recognized. And so it’s always a surprise.”

Bergen, who took the prestigious award in 2005 for “The Time In Between,” is nominated for a short story collection, “Here The Dark,” published by Biblioasis.

Bergen was also a finalist in 2010 for “The Matter with Morris.” He made long list in 2008 with “The Retreat” and in 2016 for “Stranger.”

But even Giller regulars like Bergen and Shani Mootoo, who is marking her fourth nod for her love-triangle novel “Polar Vortex” (Book*hug Press), must navigate a new awards format this year because of the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the global travesty, Bergen recognizes that a book prize may seem like a “sideline event.” But he believes it’s important to carve out space for celebration in light of the crisis so many Canadian artists are facing.

“We need books, and they can lend another perspective to what’s happening,” he said. “Artists are suffering, so any little bit of joy you can grab at, that’s great.”

Bergen trusts that organizers will do their best to safely simulate the usual fanfare leading up to the Giller ceremony in November.

But he fears that first-time finalists Gil Adamson, Emily St. John Mandel and Souvankham Thammavongsa may miss out on the rush of being feted by a room of their literary peers.

“I do feel for the writers who are first-time (nominees) and have not experienced the brouhaha around it, and the joy and the pleasure of meeting the audience,” said Bergen.

“You can sort of get a sense of them out there. But it’s in the ether. And that’s really hard to get your fingers onto and grasp.”

British Columbia-raised, New York-based Mandel, who received a nod for “The Glass Hotel” (HarperCollins Publishers), admits the current state of affairs put a bit of a damper on news of her nomination on Monday.

But Mandel also hopes that a virtual ceremony may relieve some of the pressure she associates with awards, based on her experience as a fiction finalist for the U.S.-based National Book Awards in 2014.

“There are great moments in an evening like that, (but) it’s a kind of a fishbowl feeling,” Mandel said by phone from Brooklyn.

“It’s a lot of scrutiny somehow, so I could imagine a virtual award ceremony is actually maybe a little more relaxed.”

Besides, Mandel has already given some thought to the role of the arts in reckoning with the far-reaching ravages of contagion.

Her 2014 novel, “Station Eleven,” follows a theatre troupe roaming what remains of the Great Lakes after a fictional swine flu pandemic kills much of the world’s population.

“The source I’ve always taken with ‘Station Eleven’ is that there was always going to be another pandemic, because that’s just something that happens in human history,” she said.

“By the same token, if you’re looking at a book like ‘The Glass Hotel,’ which has this massive financial crime at its center, there will always be another con man,” she said of her latest book, which details the devastating consequences of a Ponzi scheme collapse. “We certainly see that in our politics, unfortunately, living in this era of the empty suit, which I think is a kind way of putting the American situation these days.”

While Mandel denies having prophetic powers, she jokes that she should start writing utopian reads, just in case.

Toronto-based Adamson is being recognized for the western-meets-mystery “Ridgerunner” (House of Anansi Press), which is a follow-up to her lauded 2007 debut novel “The Outlander.”

And Toronto-raised Thammavongsa has a shot at the title with the short-story collection “How To Pronounce Knife” (McClelland & Stewart).

Canadian actor Eric McCormack will host, and jazz musician Diana Krall will perform in the Nov. 9 broadcast announcing the winner.

The event, which will have a mix of live and pre-taped portions, will air on CBC and its Gem streaming service.

Both McCormack and Krall will be filmed in Vancouver, from their respective locations, adhering to COVID-19 pandemic protocols.

Jury members Mark Sakamoto, Eden Robinson, David Chariandy, Tom Rachman, and Claire Armitstead chose the short list from a total of 118 submitted works.

The long list of 14 titles announced last month had some big names who didn’t make the cut, including Thomas King, Emma Donoghue, and Lynn Coady.

This is the 27th edition of the prize, which was founded by the late Jack Rabinovitch and celebrates Canadian fiction.

The award is named in honour of Rabinovitch’s late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.

— with files from Victoria Ahearn

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 323 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
‘We’re in a danger zone,’ says Hinshaw

The province’s top doctor says “we’re in a danger zone” when it… Continue reading

Mayor Tara Veer pleads with the premier Tuesday to review the decision to move to a consolidated EMS dispatch system, which will be moved to three centres across the province. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
‘Issue of life and death’: mayors plead with government to halt consolidated EMS dispatch

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer calls on premier to overturn consolidated EMS dispatch decision

A $2.3-billion expansion of Alberta’s natural gas transportation system has been approved. “This should provide significant benefits — and we need every little bit of economic boost we can get,” says Reg Warkentin, policy adviser for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Flickr photo)
Red Deer-area to benefit from $2.3 billion gas pipeline expansion project

Project will add 344 km of new pipeline between RMH and Grande Prairie

Dustin Snider was elected the new board president for Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Earl’s Restaurant manager re-elected Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce president

Dustin Snider has been re-elected president of the Red Deer & Distict… Continue reading

Red Deer singer Kayla Williams hopes listeners fed up with the pandemic are comforted by her new song, Stealing from My Youth, which is digitally available for streaming on Friday. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer singer summarizes universal pandemic feelings in a new single

Kayla Williams releases ‘Stealing From My Youth’ on Friday

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Kershaw, LA stars shine, Dodgers top Rays 8-3 in WS opener

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford leaps over a challenge by PSG's Presnel Kimpembe during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Man United wins again at PSG; Messi scores in Barca rout

Hamilton Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis, right, hugs captain Kyle Bekker following their victory in the Canadian Premier League soccer final against the Calgary Cavalry in Calgary, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Under Smyrniotis, Forge FC has been the class of the Canadian Premier League. The two-time champions from Hamilton look to mark their internationally this week as they open CONCACAF League play in El Salvador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis’ influence on Canadian soccer continues to grow

Players' sticks are shown during a World Hockey Championships game in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A senior hockey team in a small city in southern Manitoba has changed its name following a push against the use of Indigenous names and caricatures as mascots. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev
Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Manitoba senior hockey team changes Indigenous name to Bombers

Jason Kokrak tees off during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament at Shadow Creek Golf Course Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in North Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

Long drive champ Berkshire looking to compete in tournaments

The Los Angeles Dodgers line up during during the national anthem and a fly over before Game 1 of the baseball World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Pandemic World Series draws smallest crowd in over century

Keegan Messing performs in the Gala at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Messing dedicating his Skate America performance to grounded Canadian teammates

Most Read