Behind the move to expand the Scotiabank Giller Prize jury from 3 to 5 members - InfoNews

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Behind the move to expand the Scotiabank Giller Prize jury from 3 to 5 members

Sean Michaels speaks after winning the Giller Prize for his book "Us Conductors" at the awards ceremony in Toronto on Monday November 10, 2014. The prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize is expanding its jury from three to five members, a move that organizers say has been discussed for several years and one they hope will bring lively debate to the deliberations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
January 14, 2015 - 3:35 PM

TORONTO - The prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize is expanding its jury from three to five members, a move that organizers say has been discussed for several years and one they hope will bring lively debate to the deliberations.

On Wednesday, the homegrown literary prize announced its 2015 jury will include Canadians Alison Pick, Alexander MacLeod and Cecil Foster as well as Britain's Helen Oyeyemi and Ireland's John Boyne, who will serve as chair.

It's the first time in the Giller's 22-year history that it has appointed a five-member jury, but executive director Elana Rabinovitch says it was something they had considered for "many years."

"There are a number of reasons why we decided to increase the jury pool but I guess the primary one is that it, I think, will breathe a lot of energy into the deliberations," she said.

The prize was established in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller. Its annual black-tie gala is a swank affair, attracting a who's who of the literary world and beyond as well as international attention.

Last year's jurors were Canadian author Shauna Singh Baldwin, British novelist Justin Cartwright and American writer Francine Prose. They read 161 books submitted by 63 publishers and chose "Us Conductors" by Montreal's Sean Michaels as the winner.

Rabinovitch said no one suggested the jury expansion to her or her father, and she insisted that decisions by former juries had no influence on the change. Last year's move to increase the prize purse to $140,000 ($100,000 to the winner and $10,000 to each finalist) also had no bearing on the decision, she added.

In fact, the main impetus for creating a bigger jury was her trip to London over the summer to meet with various publishers and agents, as well as Ion Trewin, who runs the Man Booker Prize, said Rabinovitch.

The Booker has five jury members and Rabinovitch felt by doing the same with the Giller "it was a way of confounding pundits and publishers and the public in terms of not being able to pin selections, any books, on any one person."

"I think that it will make for a much more diverse list and a lot of surprises," she said.

Rabinovitch said they also want to make the prize "not so inside baseball," noting she thinks "it's important to include voices outside of that really insular community of CanLit."

Caroline Walker, inventory manager at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, likes the idea of having a larger variety of jury members.

"I think the only danger might be that it will be more difficult to reach a consensus on a winner, and sometimes when you have those kinds of situations, the book that wins isn't the best book in everybody's opinion but it's sort of the book everybody can agree on," she said.

But Rabinovitch said she thinks a five-member jury will actually make it easier to come to a consensus.

"I think that it will be a much more lively debate and I think that there will be much more room for consideration for each other's opinions, because you have five rather than three, with more opinions, so there has to be more consideration."

Pick noted it can be difficult to come to a consensus even on a three-member jury, which she's been a part of several times. This will mark her first time on a five-member jury and she's "excited."

"I think that it'll make for an interesting conversation, for a wide range of perspectives and I really respect and admire the other jurors," said the poet-novelist, who made the Booker long list in 2011 for "Far to Go."

Though this year's jury has three Canadians and two international authors, Rabinovitch said that might not always be the case: "We chose to go this route for this year and we'll see what next year brings."

She said she and her father choose jury members in an organic way: by sitting around discussing their favourite writers, who might be available, and who would contribute to "an intriguing mix of voices." They also asked friends of the prize, their advisory committee and others for suggestions.

Selected jury members read dozens of nominated books over several months and discuss them via conference call and then eventually in person. The winner is decided through "a conversation and a debate and a coming together and sometimes a falling apart and then a coming together," said Rabinovitch.

"So it ideally is a consensus all the time."

This year's long list will be announced in mid-September. The list of finalists is expected Oct. 5 and the winner will be named Nov. 10 in Toronto.

— Follow @VictoriaAhearn on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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