Right in the middle of this year’s fall awards bonanza, I was told there’d be a history theme in the holiday issue of Atlantic Books Today. I thought a jolly tip of the hat to Atlantic Canadians who’ve made book award history might be a nice article.
Did you know, for example, that the very first winner of Canada’s esteemed Governor General’s award for poetry was Newfoundland’s EJ Pratt? He won it in 1937 for his book, The Fable of the Goats and Other Poems. Pratt, by the way, won this award three times in his career.
The first work of fiction by an Atlantic Canadian to win the GG was Thomas Head Raddall’s The Pied Piper of Dipper Creek, in 1943. Many will recognize his name because of the prestigious Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia award named in his honour. The Thomas Head Raddall Award goes every year to the best book of fiction by an Atlantic Canadian. Its most recent winner was Russell Wangersky, who is also the first male author to win it with a book of short stories. Wayne Johnston holds the record for being the first Atlantic Canadian to win this award twice (for The Divine Ryans and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams), although David Adams Richards has also won twice. While no one is yet to have won it three times, Donna Morrissey has also tied Wayne with two wins, for her novels Downhill Chance and Sylvanus Now.
The Giller Prize is our country’s glitziest, most glamorous literary award, and Nova Scotia’s Leo McKay Jr. was the first Atlantic Canadian to be shortlisted for this award (for his collection, Like This). It took six years from the award’s inception for an Atlantic Canadian to finally win us a Giller Prize, and what a beautiful book it was: David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children. Fun fact: this occurred in the year 2000, which remains the only year there was a tie for first place. Given the controversy over the decision, it’s unlikely this will ever happen again. David shared the honour with Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost. Linden MacIntyre, for The Bishop’s Man, and Johanna Skibsrud, for The Sentamentalists, are the only other Atlantic Canadians to have won the award.
Arguably, the only thing better than winning the country’s biggest literary award is to have been a finalist for the award a whopping five times, like Wayne Johnston has been. Since the Giller Prize was founded in 1994, every single one of Wayne’s novels has been at least longlisted for the award. Lisa Moore and David Adams Richards aren’t far behind Wayne’s record, with three nods apiece.
Not to make this article all about Wayne, but he was also the first Atlantic Canadian to be shortlisted for the third major Canadian literary award, the esteemed Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. However, Kenneth J. Harvey remains the first, and only, Atlantic Canadian to have won this award.
As Atlantic Books Today goes to press, Lynn Coady and Lisa Moore are poised to be the first female Atlantic writers to win this award. Something tells me one of them will have won it by the time this article is in print and in your hands.
Editors note: This article was originally publishing in the Holiday 2013 issue of Atlantic Books Today. Lynn Coady won the Giller that year.