By Erin Letson Posted November 12, 2008, 5:32 PM EST
Although Canadian awards generally fly under the public radar (think: Genies, Geminis), the annual Scotiabank Giller Prize gets a good amount of press coverage and public attention—and last night's 15th anniversary gala was no exception. Leading up to the event, the sales of all five nominated books increased, and over the weekend the country's major newspapers explained the history of the literary prize and speculated who would win the $50,000 award. (Joseph Boyden ended up taking top honors for his novel Through Black Spruce).
As last night's eTalk Daily reported, getting into the gala—held at the Four Seasons hotel—is no easy feat because tickets can't be bought. The gala's organizer and publicist, Elana Rabinovitch (daughter of the prize's founder, Jack Rabinovitch), said the guest list consists mostly of literary types—booksellers, agents, publishers, writers, and media—and added that this year's event got the most RSVPs to date. More than 500 people attended the modest-sized gala, going over the ballroom's stated seating capacity of 480.
Rabinovitch attributes the popularity of the gala to the fact that it's a different event for writers, who usually work alone. “The gala is a way to share the authors' work and celebrate in a fun way,” said Rabinovitch. “Even the authors that don't win find sales and awareness of their work go through the roof, and that's the point.” The awards portion of the evening is broadcast live on Bravo and repeats on CTV. (The 2007 broadcast drew two million viewers.)
Karen Gruson of Karen Gruson Events handled the event decor, choosing what she called “uplifting” colors for the ballroom. Fuchsia tablecloths and bright orange napkins and roses dressed the tables, and the cocktail reception saw four 10-foot-tall stands topped with bouquets of red roses. Marcia Martin of CTV executive-produced the live show.
Presenters of the Giller Prize included the famously private author Alice Munro, who received a standing ovation. A video presentation showed clips from past Giller winners along with short interviews with celebrities like Nelly Furtado and Lisa Ray. The plug for Canadian literature continued when, before announcing the winner, Jack Rabinovitch commented that for the price of dinner in Toronto, all the finalists' books could be bought.
For those who couldn't score a seat to the gala, or simply preferred a more casual party, the Giller Light Bash took place for the seventh year, this time at the Berkeley Church. More than 600 guests gathered to watch the live broadcast and a performance by singer-songwriter Melissa McClelland. The party also happens in Winnipeg, with proceeds from both events going to the literacy organization Frontier College.
Press coverage of the awards continued today, with The Toronto Star, The National Post, and CBC, among others, writing about Boyden's win. Yesterday, Adam McDowell of The Vancouver Sun listed reasons why the Giller Prize is a success compared to other arts awards in Canada.