Last night in Toronto, Esi Edugyan won her second Scotiabank Giller Prize for her acclaimed novel Washington Black (Patrick Crean Editions). It is her third novel, following her first, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, published as part of Random House Canada's New Face of Fiction Program, and her second, her 2011 Giller Prize winner Half-Blood Blues, which was also shorted for the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Orange Prize for Fiction.
It's an astonishing achievement for an author to win two Giller Prizes in her career, but for two novels in a row (Edugyan also published a non-fiction title, Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home, in 2014) is downright sensational. Washington Black has been making big waves since it was published - it also landed nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Suffice to say, it's been a very good year for Edugyan, and last night's win more than cemented her at the pinnacle of CanLit achievement.
The announcement came at a gala dinner hosted by Canadian comedian, television personality and author Rick Mercer and attended by nearly 500 members of the publishing, media and arts communities. The evening also marked the 25th anniversary of the venerable prize, which was founded by Jack Rabinovitch, who passed away in August 2017. The Scotiabank Giller prize comes with a $100,000 prize purse.
The full 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist included:
- Patrick deWitt for his novel French Exit, published by House of Anansi Press
- Eric Dupont for his novel Songs for the Cold of Heart, translated by Peter McCambridge, published by QC Fiction
- Esi Edugyan for her novel Washington Black, published by Patrick Crean Editions
- Sheila Heti for her novel Motherhood, published by Knopf Canada
- Thea Lim for her novel An Ocean of Minutes, published by Viking Canada
Canadian writers Kamal Al-Solaylee (Jury Chair), Maxine Bailey and Heather O’Neill, together with American writer John Freeman and English novelist Philip Hensher selected the longlist, shortlist, and winner.
Of Washington Black, they wrote: "How often history asks us to underestimate those trapped there. This remarkable novel imagines what happens when a black man escapes history’s inevitable clasp – in his case, in a hot air balloon no less. Washington Black, the hero of Esi Edugyan’s novel is born in the 1800s in Barbados with a quick mind, a curious eye, and a yearning for adventure. In conjuring Black’s vivid and complex world – as cruel empires begin to crumble and the frontiers of science open like astounding vistas – Edugyan has written a supremely engrossing novel about friendship and love and the way identity is sometimes a far more vital act of imagination than the age in which one lives."
Congratulations to Esi Edugyan, all the nominated authors, and the publishers!