TRENDS IN COLLECTING
Governor General's Literary Awards
Although not as widely collected or hyped as the Man Booker Prize or the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Literary Awards have existed since 1937-well before the Man Booker Prize, which started in 1969, and the Giller Prize, first awarded in 1994. Aside from the obvious distinction of awarding prizes for both English and French, the Governor General's Literary Awards are more encompassing in recognizing truly talented Canadian writing. There are six other categories in addition to fiction, for a total of 14 in the two languages. Winners receive $50,000, leaving the Governor General's and the Scotiabank Giller tied for highest-paying literary award in Canada.
Focusing on the fiction winners over the past 20 years, one of the most interesting, although not particularly collectible, is Diane Schoemperlen's Forms of Devotion, first published in 1998 by HarperCollins Canada. This is a short story collection (which is different from a collection of short stories-but more on this topic in a future article). It features, in the words of Gambara reviewer Niranjana Iyer, "language with a joyous insouciance reminiscent of the proverbial toddler in a sandbox. Literary conventions are stomped down and new, surprising narrative structures spring up - none of which seem the least bit contrived. Rather, each story seems to have demanded a unique shape, and the author has only obeyed these demands. . . . and the pictures are intriguing. Most of the illustrations are antique woodcuts, thus offering a piquant contrast to the stories' contemporary setting. Some are simply pretty pictures, seemingly serving only to charm, but other illustrations bristle with meaning, adding further layers to an already lush narrative" ("Re-imagining the Mundane," www.gambara.org/pages/reviews.html). First editions in very fine condition with the author's signature are no more than $35 at today's fair-market prices. It is interesting to look at the literary middleweights-Barbara Gowdy for The White Bone and Wayne Johnston for The Colony of Unrequited Dreams-who were also finalists for 1998, when Forms of Devotion won.
There is good representation of small Canadian presses on the Governor General's Literary Awards list-not only among the finalists but also among the winners. The surprise winner in 2002 was Gloria Sawai for A Song for Nettie Johnson (Coteau Books). The other finalists that year (literary heavy- or middleweight) were Carol Shields for Unless and Wayne Johnston (again) for The Navigator of New York. Sawai was a speaker at the Alberta Library Conference in 2003, whose program said her writing "has been compared with such Canadian literary luminaries as Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence. Her editor says that she reminds him of Alastair McLeod [sic] in that 'Gloria has made her stories a labour of love and while there's not a large production, what there is is wonderful' " (www.albertalibraryconference.com/). Since this title was published by a small press, and it was a paperback original, collecting really nice copies will become more difficult in the future. First editions signed by the author in very fine condition are between $50 and $75 at today's fair-market prices.
To not mention Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness (Alfred A. Knopf Canada), which won in 2004, would be a big mistake. This title was commercially successful and won even with Alice Munro's Runaway on the finalist list. First editions signed by the author in very fine condition are no less than $120 at today's fair-market prices. According to the book's British publisher, Faber, "In writing A Complicated Kindness Miriam Toews has said that she wanted to 'show how the fundamentalist interpretation of religion or Christianity was destructive in the Nickel family.' Given her own background of growing up in the small conservative Mennonite community of Steinbach, Manitoba it was inevitable that she would be asked to what degree her confused yet sharply intelligent narrator's experience reflected her own" (www.faber.co.uk/media/documents/book_club_36669.pdf). Miriam Toews is one of Canada's successful Mennonite writers. The other, better-known Mennonite writer in Canada, who also won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, is Rudy Wiebe, for The Temptations of Big Bear (1973) and again for A Discovery of Strangers (1994).
Several Canadian literary heavyweights have obviously won the prize-more than once in fact-including Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Laurence, Guy Vanderhaeghe and Hugh MacLennan. Some of these famous Canadian authors have won in different genre categories-Timothy Findley in fiction and drama, and Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood in poetry and fiction.