Scott Griffin on The Griffin Prize's Evolution into the World's Largest Poetry Prize
In September, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry announced a major change to the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prizes: the two annual prizes, one awarded to a book of Canadian poetry and the other to an international collection, would now merge and become a single award open to poets around the world.
At the same time, the prize purse, already significant in the realm of literary awards at $65,000 for each winner, would become $130,000 for the single prize – officially making the Griffin Poetry Prize the largest poetry award in the world for a single book of poetry written in (or translated into) English.
Also announced was the creation of a new $10,000 prize for a first collection of poetry, to be awarded exclusively to a Canadian book.
These changes mark part of an ongoing evolution at the Griffin Prize, which has over the years also added the popular Poetry in Voice/Les voix de la poésie bilingual recitation competition and related in-school programming and a lifetime achievement award to their operations.
We spoke with Scott Griffin, co-Founder, Chairman, and Director of The Scott Griffin Foundation and patron of the prize, about the recent changes and where he sees the prize going in the future, and why he dedicates himself to supporting poetry.
Griffin, who is also Chairman and Director at House of Anansi Press, told us about what prompted the change to a single prize after 22 years, why it's important that the prize for the first book award includes a residency for the winner, and how deeply he values poetry's ability to provide "a voice for celebration or dissent".
Why was this the right time to make these changes to the Griffin Prizes? What motivated the opening up of the prize to bring Canadian and international poets under the same umbrella?
After 22 years of the original format, the trustees decided that the time had come to remove the division between Canadian and International categories - poetry should not be restricted by borders, whether those be geographical, societal, or language.
Part of this evolution also offers a space to celebrate emerging writers in particular, with the first book award. Why was this a priority for the Griffin?
The aim of this prize is to ensure that emerging Canadian poets gain exposure not only by winning the prize, but also the opportunity to showcase their work and read alongside poets from around the world at the Griffin Poetry Prize Readings.
The first book award also includes a residency – why is offering a residency as part of an award so valuable?
The aim of offering an international residency as prestigious as the Civitella Ranieri Foundation is to provide international exposure, networking, and opportunity for an emerging Canadian poet, as well as investing in their next body of work and supporting the future of a promising new Canadian voice.
What does it mean for the Griffin to now be the largest poetry award in the world?
The motivation for the Griffin Poetry Prize has always been to raise the importance of, and interest in, poetry worldwide. The trustees decided to offer one significant award to poets worldwide to capture the attention of literary communities around the world, and hopefully subsequently more attention to the winning poet.
Why is celebrating poetry, especially on an international stage, so important to the Griffin Foundation at this moment in history?
As one of the few international prizes that is open to translated works, it’s crucial that those works, along with those written in English, are celebrated and accessible to readers around the world. We have always advocated that poetry transcends borders, and has the ability to communicate the shared human experience across cultures, languages, and environments – along with providing a voice for celebration or dissent.
What do you foresee and hope for the future of the Griffin Prize?
The Griffin Poetry Prize is multifaceted, celebrating poetry at every stage of its creation. With the Poetry in Voice/Les voix de la poésie bilingual recitation competition and in-school programme, the Canadian First Book of Poetry prize, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the Lifetime Recognition Award we hope that poetry at every level can be accessible and celebrated.
Scott Griffin is Chairman, Director and controlling shareholder of House of Anansi Press Inc., a Canadian intermediate literary publishing company, publishing fiction, non-fiction and poetry; co-Founder, Chairman and Director of The Scott Griffin Foundation; co-Founder of Poetry In Voice/Les voix de la poésie, a national, bilingual poetry recitation contest combining the dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word and theatre with the study of great literature in the high school classroom; and Director, Literary Review of Canada. In 2006, he published a memoir entitled My Heart is Africa about his two-year aviation adventure throughout that continent. His interests include sailing, skiing, flying, English literature and travel to remote places. He was born in Hamilton, Ontario.