It’s one thing to be recognized for your writing, but it’s another to become the youngest novelist to win the Giller prize. After being labeled as the dark horse of the competition, Johanna Skibsrud won the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the $50,000 cheque that comes with it.
The Sentimentalists is Skibsrud’s first novel. It was hand-printed by Gaspereau Press and only 800 copies were circulated prior to making the shortlist. The novel is now in high demand. The 30-year-old is a Montreal-based writer and poet.
“I remember sitting down to the table and picking up the program earlier in the evening to see the very impressive list of past Giller winners, including many of my favorite Canadian authors,” said Skibsrud. “To even be considered for the prize, let alone to now be on that list, is still totally incredible to me.” In her acceptance speech, the winner thanked her family and publisher, as well as her late father “for sharing his stories with me.”
The novel is based on Skibsrud’s relationship with her father and the stories that he shared with her about fighting in the Vietnam War. “The novel took me seven years to complete and it went through several dramatic reworkings,” said the winner, who began working on the novel in 2003. Skibsrud explores how a person’s past plays an important part in the shaping of one’s present.
This year’s jury was made up of CBC broadcaster Michael Enright, as well as novelists Claire Messud and Ali Smith. The jury said, “The Sentimentalists charts the painful search by a dutiful daughter to learn 8212; and more importantly, to learn to understand 8212; the multi-layered truth which lies at the moral core of her dying father’s life.”
The Sentimentalists is Skibsrud’s first novel, and it is now in high demand.
She graduated from Concordia University in 2005, with a master’s degree in creative writing and is beginning a PhD in English at UniversitÃ© de MontrÃ©al. “The MA program at Concordia was a wonderful experience for me in terms of my development as a writer,” said Skibsrud. “Most of all, it afforded me the time and the legitimacy to concentrate solely on my writing.” Skibsrud added that the support system in place at Concordia helped her with improving her editing skills, as well as boosting her confidence.
The Nova Scotia native also published her first book of poetry, Late Nights with Wild Cowboys in 2008 with Gaspereau Press, and in 2005, her fiction appeared in the Delirium Press. A year later, Skibsrud was the runner-up in Lichen’s “Tracking a Serial Poet” contest, and won first prize in the Stickman Review’s short fiction contest. “Like most writers, my greatest hope for my writing is that it will find readers,” said Skibsrud. “I’ve been feeling tremendously grateful lately for the exposure that the Giller affords my present, as well as my future work.” Skibsrud currently has a collection of short stories and a second novel in the works.
The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honor of the late Doris Giller, his wife and a celebrated literary journalist. It is the only Canadian literary event to be broadcasted live across the nation. The 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist included David Bergen for his novel The Matter With Morris, Alexander MacLeod for his short story collection Light Lifting, Sarah Selecky’s short story collection This Cake Is For The Party, and Kathleen Winter’s novel Annabel.