Madeleine Thien became the most celebrated author of the literary-awards season on Nov. 7, when she was presented with the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Musician Tanya Tagaq, who introduced Thien at the gala ceremony held at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, praised the novel for being “a beautiful homage to the music in the human spirit.”
The 42-year-old Vancouver-born, Montreal-based writer dedicated the prize to her former publisher and editor, Ellen Seligman, who died in March*. Thien also spoke of her mother during her emotional acceptance speech: “She arrived in Canada 42 years ago and passed away too young in 2002. She wanted me to be free in this world, to live with confidence, to love and be loved. She taught me how to be kind and how to be brave.”
Published by Knopf Canada, Do Not Say We Have Nothing – a sweeping tale that follows three musicians in 20th-century China and the impact of the country’s massive political changes on their lives – also won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing was selected from 161 books submitted by 69 publisher imprints, and read by the jury, which comprised authors Lawrence Hill, Jeet Heer, Kathleen Winter, Samantha Harvey, and Alan Warner. This year’s Giller finalists, who each received $10,000, also included Mona Awad for 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Penguin Canada); Gary Barwin for Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada); Emma Donoghue for The Wonder (HarperCollins); Catherine Leroux for The Party Wall (Lazer Lederhendler, trans., Biblioasis); and Zoe Whittall for The Best Kind of People (House of Anansi).
*Update, Nov 8: Seligman was Thien’s editor and publisher on previous works. Do Not Say We Have Nothing was edited by Knopf Canada publishing director Lynn Henry, and published by Anne Collins, publisher of the Knopf Random Canada Publishing Group.