Anyone else sick of non-Canadian jurors slamming our literature to the entire world?
In an interview with Vulture promoting his new memoir, 2012 Giller juror Gary Shteyngart remarked that he thought our lit lacked edge, blaming the fact that authors are given government grants. Nice try backpeddling with the tweet that he was in a "drunken stupor" during the interview. It's still totally uncool to blast our books, no matter how many drinks you've knocked back.
Shteyngart obviously didn't learn a thing while fulfilling his jury duties. First of all, bureaucrats don't make granting decisions; authors and publishers sit on those panels. And, if anything, government grants keep small publishers and outside-the-box writers afloat. It's not popular books with mainstream sensibilities that get the bulk of grants, it's the edgy ones. That's why no-nothing neoliberals complain about government subsidies. Let the market determine who gets to write, they argue.
Being on a book jury in Canada doesn't mean you get the full range of who's writing in this country. A juror reads over a hundred books - that's about as many as cross my desk every two months - but only those submitted by hopeful publishers trying to guess who's got the better chance of winning. Plainly the humorist Shteyngart - hardly the edgiest writer this side of (ahem) Alice Munro, by the way - has never heard of fiction writers Tamara Faith Berger, Barbara Gowdy or Douglas Glover or hyper-critical non-fiction writers like Dany Laferrière or recent Writer's Trust winner Andrew Nikiforuk.
For the record, I've complained about the 2013 Giller jury's mainstream picks, suggesting that the panel was so worried about publishers' profits suffering because of the rise of the eBook that it had had to push popular titles to get people reading more of, well anything.
But that doesn't mean our literature is not full and rich.
Seems to me that Shteyngart is one of those envious Americans who sniffs at the fact that governments give support to writers, when in the U.S. artists have to grovel to private foundations. And by the way, do privately subsidized scribes write better books? I don't think so. The lit landscape in America was so barren in 2012 that the Pulitzer Prize purveyors couldn't find a novel good enough to honour.
This isn't the first time a visiting juror has dissed CanLit; 2009 Giller juror Victoria Glendinning also left the country feeling free to cast aspersions on our writers. It's become obvious that jurors from outside the country don't appreciate the privilege of serving on a panel or understand the adjudicating process they are involved in.
Maybe it's time to keep our jury process homegrown.