I’ve loved writing since I was little. I’ve also loved reading since I was little. It’s a game of chicken and the egg. While I know that I will never truly discover which I loved first, I know for certain that I love them quite equally.

Following my love for both, I became an English Major here at Queen’s. As I finish my final year of my undergraduate degree, I am delighted to be a part of English 466: Topics in Modern/Contemporary Canadian Literature I: The Scotiabank Giller Prize and Literary Prize Culture. Before Queen’s University, I grew up in Toronto.

I took a creative writing class in my final year of high school, and I never looked back. To this day, I find myself reading my work from that year and thinking it has never been as amazing as it was then. If it wasn’t for that creative writing class, I honestly believe I wouldn’t have made those friendships. I wouldn’t have fostered such a love for reading and writing. I don’t think I would be an English Major if it weren’t for the academic year of 2017/2018.

That year, my love for reading and writing grew so immense that I couldn’t hold onto it all by myself. There were a few individuals who shaped that year for me and shared my tremendous love. My creative writing teacher – is one of the most helpful, supportive, and encouraging teachers I have had to this date. My mother – a former English Major herself, would stay up late reading my work repeatedly to help me ensure I was always giving 110%. And my two high school best friends – I’d like to say that we became best friends because of this class. You both know who you are. I seriously cannot thank you enough for helping me become the person I am proud to be today.

In my grade 12 creative writing class, I became aware of The Scotiabank Giller Prize. One of my two high school best friends has a family connection to The Scotiabank Giller Prize, which was the first time I heard about The Giller. The moment I heard about it, I was hooked, just like the start to a phenomenal, prize-winning book.

Pictured: Doris Giller and Jack Rabinovitch


In 1994, in honour of literary journalist Doris Giller, Jack Rabinovitch founded The Giller Prize. As it stands, The Scotiabank Giller Prize is the largest cash prize for Canadian fiction. Well-known winners of The Scotiabank Giller Prize include but are not limited to Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, and Mordecai Richler.

This year’s winner of The Scotiabank Giller Prize is Omar El Akkad and his novel What Strange Paradise. Omar El Akkad is an author, journalist, and Queen’s graduate! He is currently the English Department’s undergraduate Writer in Residence. His debut novel, American War, is also an international bestseller. American War has also been translated into 13 languages and won countless awards. Both of these novels are available for purchase in Kingston at Novel Idea! Support local!

To celebrate The Scotiabank Giller Prize and Omar El Akkad’s win, the English Department is hosting an event on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022, from 7 to 9 pm. The free in-person event includes a reading from What Strange Paradise, testimonials by several special guests, a panel discussion, catering (free of charge), a cash bar, and more! Special guests include Omar El Akkad, Esi Edugyan, Joshua Whitehead, Megan Coles, Dr. Ashwini Vasanthankumar, Dr. Shobhana Xavier, and Dr. Juliane Okot-Bitek.

“On November 8th, 2021, Omar El Akkad was named the winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel, What Strange Paradise, published by McClelland & Stewart, taking home $100,000 courtesy of Scotiabank.”

This year, there were 132 titles submitted from publishers all over Canada. Twelve of those titles were long-listed, five of those were then short-listed, and then Omar El Akkad and his novel were named the winner. The short-listed nominations are Glorious Frazzled Beings by Angélique Lalonde, The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia, The Listeners by Jordan Tannahill, and Fight Night by Miriam Toews. Click here to learn about the long-listed publications.

Currently, the major sponsors of The Scotiabank Giller Prize that bring a wide variety of assets to the prize and its culture include Indigo, who is “the exclusive book-selling partner for the Scotiabank Giller Prize,” Audible, who is “the exclusive audio book sponsor,” CBC Radio-Canada who is “the exclusive media partner for the Scotiabank Giller Prize,” and Scotiabank who the Giller Prize partnered with “to create the Scotiabank Giller Prize.” Scotiabank has been a major player when it comes to funding the prize. Given this partnership, The Scotiabank Giller Prize has become “Canada’s richest literary award for fiction.” In 2005 the purse of The Scotiabank Giller won $25,000 before it grew to $50,000 in winnings. In 2008, the prize winnings grew again to $70,000. “In 2014, the purse increased to $140,000 courtesy of Scotiabank. The winning author [now] receives $100,000 and each finalist receives $10,000.

MUSE and The Scotiabank Giller Prize have many things in common; however, creativity is our main place of common ground. Both The Scotiabank Giller Prize and MUSE celebrate and honour creativity. As many of our readers know, MUSE is an independent arts and culture publication created by and featuring Queen’s University students in Kingston, Ontario. These are both places for creative minds to come together and celebrate one another’s success. It is so important to the literary world, and subsequently, the publishing world, to bring attention to award-winning people, publications, and their work.

Prize culture is an extremely interesting topic of conversation, especially over incredibly subjective things. People often think of prizes, such as The Scotiabank Giller Prize or the COPA’s, as a gift. In a way, it is a form of generosity. Winning an away can have incredibly rewarding outcomes for an author, their work, and their representing publishing house. An award, such as The Scotiabank Giller Prize, is seen as a stamp of approval and prestige that can enhance sales.

People sometimes fail to recognize the countless hours of execution that go into prizes. Above authors and jurors, there are typically two major systems that play vital roles in prizes. For literature and publishing, this often includes publishing hours and prize administration. Publishing houses include editors, marketers, and publicists. Here at MUSE, this is how things run smoothly. The Online team consists of an Online Director, Online Editors, Online Contributors, Online Illustrators, an Online Intern, Head of Initiatives, Head of Podcast, and Podcast Production Assistant – all of which are equally as crucial to the publishing process! Prize administration is a little bit of a different ball game. Prize administration can include financers, screeners, and marketers. It also includes people, such as managing directors, in administrative control with major influence on the outcome of a prize – even if they aren’t in the hot seat of deciding a winner.

MUSE as a whole was nominated for Best Digital Edition Publication in the Business sector at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards this year. The team took home silver. MUSE writer, editor, and in-coming 2022/2023 Editor-In-Chief Joanna Petropoulos was nominated for Best Multicultural Story in the Consumer sector. “Embodying Their Dream,” which I had the privileged of being the editor of, feels like it could one day blossom into something that The Scotiabank Giller Prize would recognize as marvellous.

While I don’t know what came first, my love for writing or my love for reading, what I do know is that I am so beyond excited to continue to feed these loves and have them grow into something spectacular. The next thing that will help me do this is the Queen’s University x The Scotiabank Giller Prize event.

To Get Involved…

To register for the event please click here.

To support local and purchase your copy of What Strange Paradise, or short-listed nominations of The Giller Prize please visit Novel Idea located at 156 Princess Street, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 1B1.

To learn more about What Strange Paradise click here. Follow Omar El Akkad on Twitter @omarelakkad. Follow him on Instagram @oelakkad. And check out his website at omarelakkad.com

To learn more about The Giller Prize click here.


Next Post