Literature, authors and the woman he loved
Jack Rabinovitch founded the Giller Prize in 1994 to honour the memory of his late wife Doris Giller, an outstanding literary journalist who died of cancer in April 1993. In 2005, the Giller Prize teamed up with Scotiabank to create the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It is the first co-sponsorship for Canada’s richest literary award for fiction. The Scotiabank Giller Prize celebrates the best in Canadian fiction each year, and enhances marketing efforts in bringing these books to the attention of all Canadians.
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, Rabinovitch and Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi will announce the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize long list, at 10:30 a.m. in Moyse Hall of the Arts Building. Rabinovitch recently spoke with the Reporter about the Prize and why the long list announcement will be made here. All are welcome to attend. Please RSVP.
Born, educated, and raised in Montreal, philanthropist Rabinovitch graduated from McGill in 1952 with a B.A. in Honours English. His early experience was as a cub reporter, speechwriter, food retailing and distribution executive and subsequently as an independent builder and real estate developer. Rabinovitch joined Trizec Corporation in 1972 and was appointed Executive Vice-President in 1986. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Edper Group of companies and Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
Why did you establish the prize and how did it get its name?
When my wife Doris Giller passed away in April 1993 at age 62 I was quite devastated, to say the least. After a few months I decided that she should not go gently into that last good night without some special tribute. Everybody who knew her knew she was an exceptional person and an exceptional literary journalist.
I met with my friend Mordecai Richler, at Woody’s, a pub on Bishop Street in Montreal in August of that year. I told him I wanted to start a literary fiction prize in Doris’s name and I wanted him to help. Mordecai knew and adored Doris. He agreed immediately. Mordecai suggested that we include David Staines, an eminent English professor and scholar, and over chopped liver at Moishes on The Main, the Giller Prize took form. David then suggested we include Alice Munro in the founding group, and after Alice agreed, we went public. We called it the Giller Prize because we considered it Doris’s prize.
What distinguishes this prize from other literary prizes in Canada and elsewhere?
I think what may distinguish the Giller is the personal story behind it. This isn’t a government or corporate prize. It was an idea that grew out of a relationship with a woman that I wanted to celebrate in a meaningful way. Doris loved parties, and she loved books and authors. The Giller is, more than anything else, a celebration of literature and writers.
We’re in the very fortunate position of not having to be politically correct, or beholden to any institution or individual about how we run this show. Our jury panel, a group of celebrated thinkers, writers and critics, read more than 150 books each year to come to a difficult choice of, at first 10-12 books and authors, then five and finally a winner. We only tell them: “Choose the best book of Canadian fiction of the year.” We also limit publishers to three submissions a piece, obliging them to send in the finest books they have on their list. Lastly, Scotiabank is the ideal partner for a prize like ours. Their largesse is incredible, their understanding of the prize, unique, and their absolute trust in us to do what we do best, without interference, is remarkable.
Why did you decide to move the long list announcement out of the boardroom and to a university?
We’ve actually never held any event at all for the longlist announcement. We release the names and other details with a simple press release each year. But we had brainstormed in recent years about how to make a bigger splash with the longlist, so the authors could get a bit more attention and visibility before the following month’s announcement of the shortlist. Last year, we were approached by beloved author and former Giller shortlister, Annabel Lyon, as well as others from the Creative Writing Department at the University of British Columbia, who suggested we come out to Vancouver to announce the longlist. We loved the idea for so many reasons, but primarily the fact that we could hold the event at UBC, in the storied Museum of Anthropology.
Why did you choose McGill to make the announcement?
Coming to McGill this year and announcing our longlist in the Arts Building is like coming home. McGill is the right place. Doris and I are Montrealers. McGill is my Alma Mater. The prize actually took shape here in Montreal and the Giller Gala, the prize night, is like a Montreal party. Additionally I have many wonderful memories of McGill – of my time on the McGill Daily, of professors like Hugh MacLennan and George Ian Duthie and the Honorary Doctorate awarded me in 2005.
Category: Four Burning Questions