Profile

Foster named to jury selecting 2015 winner of ‘Canada’s Pulitzer’

Cecil Foster

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published April 2, 2015

“Being invited to jury the Giller this year is an honor and it offers me a way to give something back to the Canadian literary community, which helped me develop my writing, as well as gain respectability and notice.”
Cecil Foster, professor and interim chair
Department of Transnational Studies

Award-winning writer and journalist, and UB faculty member Cecil Foster has been selected as one of five jurors who will choose the winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, frequently referred to as “Canada’s Pulitzer.”

The Giller, now in its 22nd year, is one of that country’s most prestigious and closely watched literary awards. Many of its past jurors, among them Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Colm Toibin and Gary Shteyngart, are celebrated, even iconic figures in English literature.

Foster, professor and interim chair of the Department of Transnational Studies, is a native of Barbados and citizen of Canada. He has authored 12 books, including five critically acclaimed novels, the latest of which, “Independence,” is a coming-of-age story set in 1966, the year of Barbados’ independence from Britain.

He is the author of prize-winning nonfiction as well, including the interdisciplinary analysis “Blackness and Modernity,” which challenges the somatic, cultural, status differential and idealistic categories that help define races, and last year’s “Genuine Multiculturalism: Tragedy and Comedy of Diversity,” which addresses multiculturalism in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

This year’s Giller Prize winner will be awarded $100,000; each of four runners-up will receive $10,000. Contenders must be first-edition, full-length novels or short story collections by a citizen or permanent resident of Canada.

No one knows exactly how many books will be in contention because the last submission deadline is in mid-August, but the prospect of selection is daunting.

“Last year, 161 books were vetted by three jurors,” Foster explains, “and the numbers are running pretty much the same, although books will continue to be nominated until mid-August so we will not have a firm total until then. In any case, this year, for the first time, there are five jurors, which I think will make consensus more difficult.

“Based on last year’s numbers, each of us will read and assess an average of 23 books a month between now and September, so I hope this is a year of short books.”

The jurors will produce a “long list” of nominees in September, and a short list will be announced on Oct. 5, Foster says.

“Discussion will continue until we select a winner on the morning of Nov. 10,” he says. “The winner will be announced that evening at the annual Toronto gala in honor of the Giller finalists, which will be broadcast live on the CBC, and will, as usual, enjoy international press coverage.”

As a 2015 Giller Prize juror, Foster is in distinguished literary company. His fellow jurors include Dublin native John Boyne, award-winning author of nine novels for adults and four for young readers, notably “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and Alexander McLeod, whose first collection of short stories, “Light Lifting,” has won many important awards and was named Book of the Year by the American Library Association.

They are joined by Helen Oyeyemi, author of five novels, including the magical and heartbreaking love story “Mr. Fox” (2012). In 2011, she was named by Granta one of the Best Young British Novelists and her 2014 novel “Boy, Snow, Bird” has been praised for its “dazzling inventiveness.” The fifth juror is the acclaimed and multiple award-winning Alison Pick, whose best-selling memoir, “Between Gods,” was named Top Book of 2014 by both the Toronto Globe and Mail and the CBC. Her “gloriously unsettling” novel “Far to Go” also has been widely acclaimed and was nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

“Being invited to jury the Giller this year is an honor,” Foster says, “and it offers me a way to give something back to the Canadian literary community, which helped me develop my writing, as well as gain respectability and notice.”

He has experience judging Canadian literature, having served on other juries, including that for the Governor General’s Literary Award, another prestigious Canadian prize. He also has juried provincial literary competitions.

Foster joined the UB faculty in 2013 and remains on leave from his longtime position as professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph, Ontario. He is a fellow or collaborator in several centers and institutes at Ontario’s York University as well, among them the centres for Public Policy and Law, Refugee Studies, and Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migration of African Peoples.