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More award controversy: jury-nominee connections exposed

There was a lot of attention paid to author André Alexis’s decision to step down from the Governor General’s fiction jury over a personal conflict (assumed to involve Catherine Bush’s novel Claire’s Head), but he may not have been the only GG juror whose objectivity was questionable. In a column on the Maisonneuve website, poet and critic Zachariah Wells notes that Roo Borson, whose A Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida won the poetry prize, “thanks [poetry juror Robert] Bringhurst in her acknowledgements for his editorial contribution to her book.” And another poetry nominee, Tim Bowling’s The Memory Orchard, is dedicated to another juror, Russell Thornton.

Wells isn’t just finger-pointing, though; he moves on to suggest ways to mitigate the danger of litworld chumminess. His suggestions include stricter limits on how many books can be considered, more rigorous audits of jurors, more transparency in jury deliberations. And one more idea, which is a bit far-out: “open up jury duty to volunteers from the general public. Isn’t it from the citizenry that juries in the courts are formed, even if they are largely ignorant of the intricacies of law? There may not be many people who sign up, but what possible harm could come from the odd taxpaying layperson having his or her say? I somehow doubt the Canada Council could do much worse.”

Related links:
Zach Wells’ piece on the GG Awards on Maisonneuve website
Canadian critic Alex Good on the National Book Award controversy in the U.S.
Q&Q editorial on award deliberations