Suzette Mayr, winner of the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for 'The Sleeping Car Porter,' attends the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize at Four Seasons Hotel on Nov. 7, 2022 in Toronto. Photo: Jeremy Chan/Getty Images
Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’
The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary." / BY Robert Wiersema / November 7th, 2022
Calgary-based writer and poet Suzette Mayr has been awarded the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Sleeping Car Porter (published by Coach House Books). The novel follows the story of Baxter, a black porter on a cross-Canada train journey which is stranded for days in the mountains.
The Giller Prize, which is worth $100,000 to the winner, is the largest prize in Canadian literature.
“I’m so confused right now,” Mayr said, after her name was announced by Omar El Akkad, who was awarded the prize last year for his novel What Strange Paradise, at the prize ceremony in downtown Toronto. “I want to swear so bad.” Mayr began by acknowledging her fellow nominees, saying “it’s been such a privilege to get to know the other writers. You’re so brilliant.”
The Giller jury were equally enthusiastic in their shortlist comments for the winning novel: “Suzette Mayr brings to life — believably, achingly, thrillingly — a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly one hundred years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary.“
After two years of scaled-down events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the virtual event in 2020 and the reduced attendance of last year’s in-person event, this year’s Giller ceremony was a return to form — a gala evening at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Notable guests included Margaret Atwood, John Irving, Rick Mercer, and Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as recent Giller winners Andre Alexis, who won in 2015 for his novel Fifteen Dogs, and Madeleine Thien, who won the prize in 2016 for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
The event was co-hosted by poet Rupi Kaur and actor Sarah Gadon, of the CBC’s 2017 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and last year’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Kaur also performed her piece “Broken English” with musical accompaniment by Denzel Sinclaire.
Each of the nominees introduced their own books on-stage, as well as presenting mini-documentaries detailing their writing spaces, their creative processes, and their foibles.
“Baxter is a figure often relegated to the footnotes of other peoples’ stories, a shadow in the background, ” Mayr said in her introduction to her book. “This novel shines the spotlight on him.”
The 2022 jury was Canadian authors Casey Plett (Jury Chair), Kaie Kellough and Waubgeshig Rice, and American authors Katie Kitamura and Scott Spencer. The five writers read 138 books (submitted by their publishers), winnowing down to a fourteen-title longlist and, finally, the five shortlisted books.
The other nominees on the shortlist were Kim Fu for her short story collection, Lesser-Known Monsters of the 21st Century (Coach House Books), Rawi Hage for his story collection Stray Dogs (Knopf Canada), Tsering Yangzom Lama for her novel We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies (McClelland & Stewart), and Noor Naga for her novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English (Graywolf Press).
Each of the shortlisted authors will receive $10,000. All five writers also received “a custom, leather-bound edition of their book to commemorate the occasion.”
Founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, the Giller Prize is, traditionally, one of the most glamorous nights on the literary calendar.