GOVERNOR GENERAL’S LITERARY AWARD WINNERS

Sarah Henstra's The Red Word is the 2018 GGBooks winner for Fiction (English)

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THE RED WORD: A NOVEL by Sarah Henstra

The battle of the sexes goes to college in this nervy debut adult novel by a powerful new voice

A smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go The Red Word is a campus novel like no other. As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry — particularly at Gamma Beta Chi. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the state of feminist activism on campus. The frat known as GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture — but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price.

The Red Word captures beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics and the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers, and life-altering ideas. With strains of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Alison Lurie’s Truth and Consequences, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Sarah Henstra’s debut adult novel arrives on the wings of furies.

Groundbreaking and provocative, this is an astonishing evisceration of the clichés of sexual politics as they exist not only on our college campuses, but also within broader present-day society. Alternately heartbreaking, funny, and critical, no one gets off easily. The Red Word plumbs the depths of literature, mythology, history, philosophy, and a host of contemporary issues—an utterly effing good read.
— Peer assessment committee: Andrea MacPherson, Shani Mootoo, Craig Francis Power

Jordan Tannahill's Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom is the 2018 GGBooks winner for Drama (English).

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Winner of the Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best New Canadian Play of 2016

Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom presents wildly apocryphal retellings of two events—one historic, one mythic—that reconsider the official record through decidedly queer and feminist lenses.

Painter Sandro Botticelli is an irrepressible libertine, renowned for his weekend-long orgies as much as he is for his great masterpieces of the early Renaissance. But things get complicated when Lorenzo de’ Medici commissions Botticelli to paint a portrait of his wife, Clarice. What emerges is the famed The Birth of Venus and a love triangle involving Botticelli’s young assistant Leonardo that risks setting their world alight. For while Florence of 1497 is a liberal city, civil unrest is stoked by the charismatic friar Girolamo Savonarola who begins calling for sodomites to be burned at the pyre.

In the Bible she is unnamed, referred to simply as “Lot’s wife.” In Sunday in Sodom, Edith recounts how her husband welcomed two American soldiers into their house, the fury this sparked in their village, and the chain of events that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But most importantly, Edith sets the record straight as to why, after being told not to, she looked back upon the destruction of her hometown and turned into a pillar of salt.

Jordan Tannahill’s two-play volume explores the fragility of social consensus in a world made uneasy by the forces of social division. Both plays are poetic, irreverent and funny, offering the pleasure of entertainment while displaying masterful literary ability. Tannahill possesses a powerful artistic voice that reflects where we come from, who we are and who we may become.
— Peer assessment committee: Rosa Laborde, Ian Ross, Kent Stetson, C.M.

Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott's Descent into Night is the 2018 GGBooks winner for Translation (English).

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DESCENT INTO NIGHT by Edem Awumey

Translated by Phyllis Aronoff, Howard Scott

With a nod to Samuel Beckett and Bohumil Hrabal, a young dramatist from a West African nation describes a student protest against a brutal oligarchy and its crushing aftermath. While distributing leaflets with provocative quotations from Beckett, Ito Baraka is taken to a camp where torture, starvation, beatings, and rape are normal. Forced to inform on his friends, whose fates he now fears, and released a broken man, he escapes to Quebec. His one goal is to tell the story of the protest and pay homage to Koli Lem, a teacher, cellmate, and lover of books, who was blinded by being forced to look at the sun—and is surely a symbol of the nation. Edem Awumey gives us a darkly moving and terrifying novel about fear and play, repression and protest, and the indomitable nature of creativity.

Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, is a beautifully assured rendering of a text offering many translation challenges. The translators agilely follow the text as it shifts between an ailing Quebec writer’s regrets about his life, and his long-ago involvement in a failed West African revolution, which haunts him into the present. This translation skillfully captures the lyricism of the French text.
— Peer assessment committee: Dawn M. Cornelio, Peter Feldstein, Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER FOR FICTION

 
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Less, by Andrew Sean Greer (Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown and Company)

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A generous book, musical in its prose and expansive in its structure and range, about growing older and the essential nature of love.

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, "Less" is, above all, a love story.

A scintillating satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart, a bittersweet romance of chances lost, by an author The New York Times has hailed as "inspired, lyrical," "elegiac," "ingenious," as well as "too sappy by half," Less shows a writer at the peak of his talents raising the curtain on our shared human comedy.

NOTEWORTHY NOMINATIONS

THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE SHORTLIST

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LAND MAMMALS AND SEA CREATURES: A NOVEL by Jen Neale

A startling, moving magic realist debut

Almost immediately upon Julie Bird's return to the small port town where she was raised, everyday life is turned upside down. Julie's Gulf War vet father, Marty, has been on the losing side of a battle with PTSD for too long. A day of boating takes a dramatic turn when a majestic blue whale beaches itself and dies. A blond stranger sets up camp oceanside: she's an agitator, musician-impersonator, and armchair philosopher named Jennie Lee Lewis - and Julie discovers she's connected to her father's mysterious trip to New Mexico 25 years earlier. As the blue whale decays on the beach, more wildlife turns up dead - apparently by suicide - echoing Marty's deepest desire. But Julie isn't ready for a world without her father.

A stunning exploration of love and grief, Land Mammals and Sea Creatures is magic realism on the seaside, a novel about living life to the fullest and coming to your own terms with its end.

 

2018 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE SHORTLIST

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SONGS FOR THE COLD OF HEART by Eric Dupont

Translated by Peter McCambridge

Nuns that appear out of thin air, a dinner party at the Goebbels’, Quebec’s very own Margaret Thatcher, a grandma that just won’t die (not until the archangel comes back)...Songs For The Cold Of Heart is a yarn to rival the best of them, a big fat whopper of a tall tale that bounces around from provincial Rivière-du-Loup in 1919 to Nagasaki, 1990s Berlin, Rome, and beyond. This is the novel of a century—long and glorious, stuffed full of parallels, repeating motifs, and unforgettable characters—with the passion and plotting of a modern-day Tosca.

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