Two Indigenous authors, Michelle Good and Thomas King, are among this year’s long list of nominations for the Giller Prize, which recognizes the best books in Canadian fiction.
“This morning I cried. I mean, it’s such a wonderful thing,” said Good.
The Giller Prize awards $100,000 to the best Canadian novel, graphic novel or short story collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the finalists.
This year’s long list nominations were announced on International Literacy Day and featured 14 titles, including Good’s debut book, Five Little Indians, and King’s latest, Indians on Vacation.
Good, who is Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, said she wrote the book to give readers a safe space to learn about the residential school experience.
As someone whose mother, aunties, uncles and grandmother went to residential schools, Good said the book serves a purpose, and that purpose is to give people another opportunity to learn through her gift of storytelling.
“The TRC report is one of the most important documents that has ever been developed in response to the residential school nightmare,” said Good.
“But I think we need a very broad-based arsenal. We need poetry, we need fiction, we need non-fiction, academic political analysis, we need all of it.”
Good said she hopes that people can use the fictional book, based on her relatives’ experiences, as an opportunity to learn more.
“Stories are safe places for people to relax. As they’re going into the journey of these five survivors, they are going to be touched by it and their understanding deepened,” said Good.
‘It’s not an easy thing to do’
King is a Canadian-American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry, who has now spent half of his life living in Canada.
He is known for his 2012 book The Inconvenient Indian and said he is pleased by his Giller Prize nomination for Indians on Vacation.
“It’s the first time I’ve been on the Giller long-list so at my age, those pleasures are not just little ones,” said King, who lives in Guelph, Ont.
He said his newest book started off as a travelogue, inspired by international travels related to book tours.
King, who grew up in California, moved to Canada in the 1980s and published his first novel in 1990. Since then, he said, he has noticed a stronger presence of Indigenous authors though it is not an easy feat for people to get their start in the industry.
“I don’t care whether you’re a Native writer or non-Native writer, it’s difficult to get published,” said King.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. But I think in Canada in particular, there is an interest in Indigenous material.”
He said he used to teach Indigenous literature and when he started, he remembers having only three books written by Indigenous authors on his desk.
“And now my room isn’t big enough to hold the books that have been produced by Native writers.”
When it comes to writing competitions like the Giller, King said he isn’t a fan of winners and losers when it comes to literature. Instead of a winner-takes-all, he would prefer to see prizes spread across the long/short lists.
The jury for the Giller Prize features Son of a Trickster author Eden Robinson and the short list is expected to be announced on Oct. 5. The winner will be announced on Nov. 9.