Johanna Skibsrud wins Giller Prize, jaws drop
It was to the sound of numerous jaws hitting the floor that author Johanna Skibsrud was awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize last night for her book, The Sentimentalist. The win was a bit of a coup: Skibsrud is only 30 years old, and the obscure book was published and hand-printed by Gaspereau Press in a run of only 800 copies.
The award is obviously good news for Skibsrud and the tiny Nova Scotia publishing house but may present some challenges. Winning the Giller usually means sales of about 75,000 copies, far more than the boutique publisher can quickly produce. Still, Gaspereau publisher Andrew Steeves is determined not to sell out: he’s already refused a commercial publisher’s offer to print the second edition and told the Globe, “If you are going to buy a copy of that book in Canada, it’s damn well coming out of my shop.”
Steeves’ attitude flies in the face of today’s Chapters- and Amazon-dominated book market, which relies more heavily on prizes like the Giller than ever before. According to McClelland and Stewart president Douglas Pepper, the influence of prizes only grows as small bookstores disappear. This is because readers become more dependent on literary awards—in the absence of shop owners—to tell them what’s good.
If you’re one of those readers who follow the literary award winners like the advice of your now unemployed bookshop keeper, you’ll likely be trying to get your hands on a copy of The Sentimentalist. After hearing what Steeves has to say about it, we wish you luck.