‘Help them make a liv­ing’

Book prize cre­ator Jack Rabi­novitch passes away at 87

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

Jack Rabi­novitch, the beloved busi­ness­man who cre­ated the lu­cra­tive and pres­ti­gious Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize lit­er­ary award that boosted the pro­files and sales of count­less Cana­dian fic­tion au­thors, has died.

Rabi­novitch died Sun­day af­ter­noon in Toronto, his daugh­ter Elana con­firmed. He was 87.

An obit­u­ary posted on the web­site of Ben­jamin’s Park Me­mo­rial Chapel, which was han­dling the fu­neral said Rabi­novitch died as a re­sult of a “cat­a­strophic fall” at this home last week.

The Mon­treal-born, Toron­to­based Rabi­novitch tack­led sev­eral ca­reers through­out his life, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ism, food re­tail and real es­tate. But it was his Giller award that made him a rec­og­niz­able face across Canada and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

The idea for the renowned hon­our was hatched not over board­room cof­fee but over bar drinks with au­thor Morde­cai Rich­ler.

“It started at a pub in Mon­treal called Woody’s and ended up at a famous restau­rant in Mon­treal called Moishes, and over chopped liver we de­cided what to do,” Rabi­novitch told The Cana­dian Press at the Giller Prize gala in Oc­to­ber 2012.

The prize was es­tab­lished in 1994, a year after the death of Rabi­novitch’s wife, lit­er­ary jour­nal­ist Doris Giller.

Rabi­novitch wanted to cre­ate a lit­er­ary award to hon­our Giller while also rec­og­niz­ing ex­cel­lence in Cana­dian fic­tion — in long for­mat or short sto­ries.

“The only real ma­jor (lit­er­ary) prize (back then) was the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s and most peo­ple just felt that it wasn’t right to just let the gov­ern­ment han­dle the sit­u­a­tion,” said Rabi­novitch, who was named Ma­clean’s mag­a­zine “Man of the Year” in 1999. “So pri­vate peo­ple like my­self and var­i­ous other peo­ple have started new prizes to high­light and ad­mire new writ­ers.”

The Giller Prize ini­tially en­dowed a cash prize of $25,000, which was the largest purse for lit­er­a­ture in the coun­try.

In 2005, the award teamed up with Sco­tia­bank and the prize grew to what is now $50,000 for the win­ner and $5,000 for each of the fi­nal­ists.

Ac­cord­ing to the prize’s web­site, more than 2.5 mil­lion Giller-nom­i­nated books were sold in the first 10 years of the award, re­sult­ing in head­lines about the so-called “Giller ef­fect” on fi­nal­ists.

“We learned a long time ago that au­thors are re­ally in­ter­ested in sell­ing their books, that’s how they make a liv­ing, so that’s what we’re try­ing to do — is help them make a liv­ing,” said Rabi­novitch, whose sig­na­ture line at ev­ery Giller gala was: “For the price of a din­ner in this town you can buy all the nom­i­nated books. So, eat at home and buy the books.”

Be­yond the spike in sales and the ex­po­sure, the Giller also gives au­thors the op­por­tu­nity to break away from their typ­i­cally iso­lated writ­ing lives and dress up at the an­nual awards gala, where a who’s who of the lit­er­ary world and be­yond come to­gether for a night of fine din­ing and en­ter­tain­ment.

“I think it’s amaz­ing for books to get this kind of at­ten­tion at an event like this. It’s un­par­al­leled,” said Giller nom­i­nee Alix Oh­lin at the Oc­to­ber 2012 bash.

“It’s a long way from work­ing in your kitchen and mak­ing sure the cat’s wa­ter dish is full, which is more like what writ­ers deal with,” quipped fel­low nom­i­nee Rus­sell Wanger­sky.

Rabi­novitch’s love of lit­er­a­ture blos­somed when he stud­ied at McGill Univer­sity and grad­u­ated with a B.A. in Hon­ours English in 1952.

He then worked as a re­porter and a speech­writer be­fore en­ter­ing the worlds of food re­tail­ing, dis­tri­bu­tion, and build­ing and real es­tate de­vel­op­ment.

In 1986, he be­came ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of prop­erty de­vel­op­ment com­pany Trizec Cor­po­ra­tion and joined the board of the Princess Mar­garet Hospi­tal. He was also on the Board of the MaRS (Med­i­cal and Re­lated Sci­ence) Project.

Rabi­novitch even­tu­ally be­came pres­i­dent of Nodel In­vest­ments Ltd., a real es­tate/ ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, and be­came an of­fi­cer of the Or­der of Canada in 2009.

Rabi­novitch is sur­vived by his three daugh­ters — Noni, Daphna and Elana — and three grand­chil­dren — Ja­cob, Saffi and Luca.

The fu­neral will be held Wed­nes­day.

Jack Rabi­novitch, founder of the Giller Prize, ar­rives on the red car­pet at the Giller Prize Gala in Toronto on Nov. 10, 2015. Rabi­novitch, the beloved busi­ness­man who cre­ated the lu­cra­tive and pres­ti­gious Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize lit­er­ary award that boosted the pro­files and sales of count­less Cana­dian fic­tion au­thors, has passed away.

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