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Giller Prize jurors offer insight into their selection process

Esi Edugyan

Less than 24 hours before the Scotiabank Giller Prize reveals this year’s five shortlisted authors, the three judges “ Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, and Esi Edugyan “ discussed the jurying process in front of a small audience of fans and industry folk at a downtown Toronto Indigo bookstore.

Hosted by CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, the jurors described the “Herculean task” of reading 147 books over the span of several months, an activity the three saw as a way of giving back to the literary community. “It’s a vote of participation in the literary culture,” said Lethem.

According to Lethem and Atwood, prize founder Jack Rabinovitch played an important role in convincing them to participate. “I was flattered into it,” said Lethem. When Rabinovitch told Lethem that Atwood would also be on the jury, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “I started to read [her] books when I was 17 or 18,” he said.

For her part, Edugyan, who won the prize in 2011, said it didn’t take much convincing. “I got to talk books with Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem, and so intimately,” she said.

Atwood’s participation on the jury ruled her new novel, MaddAddam, out of consideration. As winner of the 1996 Giller Prize for Alias Grace, there was some speculation that she participated in the jury in order to leave the prize open for new Canadian talent. However, Atwood told the audience: “I didn’t think it would be in contention anyway. It’s the wrong kind of book.”

Absent from the discussion was any talk of the individual longlisted books (nor did they discuss the recent controversy surrounding nominated author David Gilmour), but each juror shared their selection process. Edugyan gave each submitted book 100 pages, whereas Lethem sometimes quit after 50.