Trinidadian-born Canadian author André Alexis took home the prestigious Giller Prize Tuesday evening for his novel Fifteen Dogs.
The Giller Prize is considered Canada’s pre-eminent literary award.
In a televised show before a packed room at the Ritz Carlton, Alexis joined the ranks of authors Austin Clarke (2002) and Esi Edugyan (2011). Alexis won $100,000 that accompanies the award.
Hot off winning the $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize last week, Toronto resident Alexis has now earned two of the country’s three major fiction awards.
This is an exciting time to be in Toronto as a bountiful new crop of works by African Canadian writers Pamela Mordecai, Lawrence Hill, Olive Senior, Nalo Hopkinson and Austin Clarke are now available.
Backstage after receiving the award, a stunned Alexis said, “I didn’t think that I was going to win it. I never think that I’m going to win anything.
“My own feeling is that if you get too absorbed in thinking about winning and losing, then you get disappointed if you lose and you get too weird if you win. I like to keep myself on an even keel.”
Winning their first Giller Prize was a special celebration for publisher Coach House Press which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Coach House also published Alexis’ first novel Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.
Fifteen Dogs is a contemporary tale set in Toronto. It starts out in the Wheat Sheaf Tavern with a lively conversation between the gods Hermes and Apollo. A wager ensues where the gods bestow human intelligence and language skills on dogs.
Walking past a veterinarian’s clinic, the gods choose 15 dogs as subjects of their wager. Over the course of the novel, Alexis chronicles what it means to be human as he weaves the fate of the affected dogs. It is masterful storytelling as Alexis introduces us to the characters Majnoun, Wily Benjy and Prince.
The other finalists were Rachel Cusk for Outline; Vancouver’s Anakana Schofield for her avant-garde novel Martin John; Quebec writer Samuel Archibald for his debut collection of short fiction, Arvida, translated from the French by Donald Winkler; and Montreal’s Heather O’Neill, the first author shortlisted for the Giller in consecutive years, for her short-story collection Daydreams of Angels.
Other works by Alexis include Childhood, Lambton Kent: A Play; Ingrid & the Wolves; Beauty and Sadness and Pastoral. The Hidden Keys will be released in 2016.
Alexis said he will use part of his winnings to work on that new book in Florida and pay down his mortgage.
By Itah Sadu, owner, A Different Booklist