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Scaachi Koul on the Leacock Medal’s historic all-female shortlist

Scaachi Koul (Barbora Simkova)

For the first time in the 71-year history of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, all three shortlisted authors are female.

The shortlisted authors are Nelson, B.C., writer Jennifer Craig for her novel Gone to Pot; New York–based broadcaster-turned-novelist Laurie Gelman for her novel Class Mom; and Toronto-based journalist Scaachi Koul for her debut essay collection One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. The winner, who will be announced on June 9, will become the eighth woman to take home the prize, which honours Canadian humour writers.

For Koul, the honour is deeply personal. When she found out she had been shortlisted, she tweeted, “I am presently weeping on a flight but for once it’s not because the flight is turbulent (though it is) and I’m worried I’m going to die (though I will).”

“I grew up watching funny people, reading funny writing, and I think for people who sit on the outside looking in, getting noticed by something like the Leacock feels important,” Koul tells Q&Q. “Me and my dad used to talk about the medal all the time, and about authors who won it, and they were always white dudes.

“The stories they wrote, while clever, never entirely spoke to me because I wasn’t raised like they were, I didn’t move through the world like they did, and I certainly didn’t talk like they did. So to get noticed by a board that has not, historically, noticed people like me or writing like mine feels valuable.”

Koul hopes that the award, which is chosen by a national panel of judges — in addition to a group of readers based in Orillia, where Leacock summered and was inspired to write Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town — will continue to celebrate voices that haven’t historically been recognized. “It’s great news, obviously, and the hope is that it doesn’t take them another 70 years to bring in more women and more people of colour,” she says. “I would like to be alive to witness more and more shifts like that.”

In the meantime, Koul is happy she can share the moment with her dad. “My dad is pretty chuffed, which probably also contributed to my weeping,” she says. “Not necessarily because I needed his approval but mostly because it shut him up for a few weeks. The silence has been…truly glorious.”