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Jack Rabinovitch, Giller Prize founder, dies at 87

Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch and executive director Elana Rabinovitch (Tom Sandler)

Giller Prize founder Jack Rabinovitch and executive director Elana Rabinovitch (Tom Sandler)

Jack Rabinovitch, founder of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and passionate champion of CanLit, has died at the age of 87. According to a family announcement on the Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel website, his death was the result of “injuries suffered in a catastrophic fall at his home a few days ago.”

Rabinovitch, the Montreal-born, Toronto-based business executive, philanthropist and Officer of the Order of Canada, initiated the Giller Prize in 1994 to honour his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. In a 2013 interview with Q&Q celebrating the award’s 20th anniversary, Rabinovitch recalled its origins: “When Doris died, I thought something should be done, because she was an exceptional person. Some of our closest friends were Mordecai and Florence Richler. I flew to Montreal to see Mordecai at a place called Grumpy’s, and over double Scotches, we decided to form the Giller Prize and have a Montreal-style party. We would invite people who knew Doris, who were in the literary field, and who were interested in literature.”

From the onset, Rabinovitch’s aim was to promote and sell Canadian books to a broad readership: at each gala, he would urge attendees and, later, television viewers, to buy the shortlisted books, which he said was the equivalent price of “a good dinner in this town.”

Over the past 20 years, the Giller Prize has grown from an insider event to one of the most influential and lucrative literary awards in the country, with the winner’s purse increasing to $50,000 from $25,000 once Scotiabank was secured as a sponsor in 2005. The award’s influence – sales for Will Ferguson’s 2012 winning novel, 419, increased by 900 per cent in the three weeks following its win — has been dubbed “the Giller effect,” and been the subject of academic study.

Rabinovitch is survived by three daughters — Noni, Daphna, and Elana (the executive director of the Giller Prize) — and three grandchildren. His funeral is scheduled for Aug. 9.