On­daatje makes it five

Fiction prize for Divisadero lifts him to same to­tal as Hugh MacLen­nan

Montreal Gazette - - Arts & Life - PAT DONNELLY GAZETTE BOOK CRITIC

Michael On­daatje matched Hugh MacLen­nan’s record for win­ning Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Lit­er­ary Awards yes­ter­day when he walked away with the 2007 GG for fiction, bring­ing his to­tal to five (three for fiction, two for po­etry).

On the podium at the La Grande Bi­b­lio­thèque et Archives na­tionales du Québec, he thanked the fiction jury, made up of Austin Clarke, Eden Robin­son and Rudy Wiebe, for ap­pre­ci­at­ing his Divisadero, a “fugi­tive” novel that ex­per­i­mented with struc­ture.

“Th­ese are writ­ers whose work I’ve ad­mired for a very long time,” he said. “And to re­ceive this award from them meant so much to me. And it was an hon­our to be in the com­pany of Bar­bara Gowdy and M.G. Vas­sanji as well as two new and very tal­ented writ­ers, David Char­iandy and Heather O’Neill.”

On­daatje praised the GGs for tak­ing risks with edgy works, call­ing to mind that he was only 27 when he won his first GG for The Col­lected Works of Billy the Kid. “Which led to the trauma of buy­ing my first suit,” he re­called.

In ad­di­tion to the usual thank-you list of friends and edi­tors, On­daatje ex­pressed his grat­i­tude to­ward the fic­tional char­ac­ters in Divisadero, “who kept me com­pany on a daily ba­sis for the last five years.”

Af­ter the cer­e­mony was over, On­daatje re­turned to the stage briefly to take ques­tions from the floor. Yes, he’s pleased to hear his name con­nected with that of Hugh MacLen­nan. When he first came to Canada, he said, nov­els were mainly Bri­tish and movies Amer­i­can. Then he dis­cov­ered the works of MacLen­nan and Leonard Co­hen. “Those writ­ers, they’re still with me,” he said. And, no, he hasn’t started his next novel yet.

An­other CanLit icon, Mar­garet Atwood, fared not so well as On­daatje. Her po­etry col­lec­tion The Door: Po­ems lost out to All Our Won­der Unavenged, by a rel­a­tively un­known Cape Bre­ton-born poet, Don Do­man­ski, who car­ried his Bud­dhist prayer beads with him on­stage.

Do­man­ski gave a strik­ingly elo­quent speech on the ephemeral na­ture of all things. Atwood did not at­tend the cer­e­mony, nor did most other non­win­ning fi­nal­ists. The win­ners had been tipped off about a month ahead of time, Do­man­ski said.

The French-lan­guage fiction award went to Sylvain Trudel of Que­bec City for his La mer de la Tran­quil­lité.

Karolyn Smardz Frost took the English-lan­guage non-fiction GG for her I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Un­der­ground Rail­road.

Mon­trealer Nigel Spencer won his sec­ond GG for trans­lat­ing a work by Marie-Claire Blais into Au­gustino and the Choir of De­struc­tion.

The English-into-French duo of Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné won their sec­ond trans­la­tion GG for Dernières Notes (Last Notes and Other Sto­ries, by Ta­mas Dobozy).

Two French-lan­guage awards went to writ­ers based out­side Que­bec: The GG for non-fiction in French went to an On­tario au­thor, An­nette Hay­ward of Kingston, for her schol­arly study of Que­bec lit­er­a­ture, La querelle du ré­gion­al­isme au Québec (1904-1931): Vers l’au­tonomi­sa­tion de la lit­téra­ture québé­coise. And Moncton’s Serge Pa­trice Thi­bodeau took the French po­etry award for Seul on est.

Que­bec-born, Toronto-based play­wright Colleen Mur­phy won the English-lan­guage drama award, for The De­cem­ber Man (see story at right), while Daniel Da­nis won his third GG for his play Le chant du Dire-Dire.

Chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture awards went to Iain Lawrence of Gabri­ola Is­land, B.C., for Gemini Sum­mer and, in French, to Mon­trealer François Barcelo for La fati­gante et le fainéant.

The awards for il­lus­tra­tion in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture went to Dun­can Weller of Thun­der Bay for The Boy from the Sun, which he also wrote, and Geneviève Côté of Mon­treal for La pe­tite rap­por­teuse de mots, with text by Danielle Si­mard.

Nine of this year’s 14 GG win­ners are first-timers. As of this year, to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts, the awards are worth $25,000, up from $15,000.

The hon­ours will be of­fi­cially handed out by Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Michaëlle Jean on Dec. 13 at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

English-lan­guage fiction: Divisadero

Non-fiction in French: La quérelle du ré­gion­al­isme au Québec (1904-1931)

Il­lus­tra­tion, chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture in French: La pe­tite rap­por­teuse de mots

French-lan­guage drama: Le chant du Dire-Dire

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