On Monday night, the finalists for the 75th Governor General’s Literary Award in Fiction (English) gathered in the Fleck Theatre to read from their nominated works; although the International Festival of Authors attracts an astounding number of literary luminaries, awards events such as this are notable for their impressive rosters. Shelagh Rogers of The Next Chapter on CBC Radio introduced each author; unfortunately, two out of the five weren’t in attendance, which noticeably disappointed the audience. (Given that the event was scheduled before the nominees were announced, it’s reasonable to think this might have happened, but it diminished the event nonetheless.)
First up was David Bezmozgis, nominated for his novel The Free World. Recently named one of the Top 20 Under 40 by The New Yorker, he grew up in Toronto after emigrating from Latvia, and currently lives in New York City. His excerpt was well-chosen, entertaining and able to stand alone, and he gave an excellent reading.
Patrick deWitt was not in attendance, so Michael Lista read from deWitt’s novel The Sisters Brothers in his stead. While it may be true that many authors are not great public speakers, they at least have the advantage of reading from their own works; Lista did not have the same familiarity, and his reading was less engaging.
Esi Edugyan was also unable to attend; Donna Bailey Nurse read from Half-Blood Blues in her place. Nurse had left her own launch party that evening in order to come and read from the book, which is about a mixed-race jazz musician during the Second World War.
Marina Endicott, who Rogers noted has a background in theatre, was a particularly delightful reader; clearly comfortable on stage, she put colour and vivre into her reading from The Little Shadows, a novel about three sisters in vaudeville, stage-managed by their mother.
Finally, Alexi Zentner (introduced by Rogers, on a dare, as “his royal hotness”) read from Touch, a novel that takes place in a mining town in northern British Columbia. His excerpt, which I had previously read in short story form, was strong and emotionally wringing. He read a bit too quickly, but I soon stopped noticing it due to the power of his prose.
The winner of the Governor General’s award will be announced on November 15.