Suzette Mayr won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Sleeping Car Carrier.
The $100,000 prize is the richest in Canadian literature.
Mayr is a Calgary-based poet and novelist. She is the author of the novels Dr Edith Vane and the Crawley Hall Hares, Monoceros, Honeymoon, widows and Venous Hum. Monoceros won the ReLit Prize, the City of Calgary’s WO Mitchell Book Prize and was longlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Mayr is past president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and has taught creative writing at the University of Calgary since 2003.
“I want to highlight the importance of the sleeping car porters – the men and the communities around them who are an essential part of Canadian history and about whom I have spoken in this book,” Mayr said in his acceptance speech.
“And a final shout out to my LGBTQIA2S+ sisters, brothers and sisters, many of whom, like my main character Baxter, are still too scared to come out or can’t come out because to do so would be too dangerous. I love you and it delivers is for you,” Mayr said to a standing ovation.
The Sleeping Car Carrier, Mayr’s sixth novel, tells the story of Baxter, a black man in 1929 who works as a sleeper porter on a cross-country train. He smiles and tries to be invisible to the passengers, but what he really wants is to save money and go to dental school. On one particular trip out west, the train stalls and Baxter finds a naughty postcard of two gay men. The postcard awakens his memories and desires and puts his work in danger.
“It’s really important that black people are part of the fabric of this country’s history. It gets a little tiring when you only talk about it in February, because it’s Black History Month. . It’s every month. It’s everywhere.” Mayr said in an interview with CBC Books.
Mayr’s other finalists included Montreal’s Rawi Hage for the story collection Stray dogsEgyptian-Canadian writer Noor Naga for the novel If an Egyptian does not speak EnglishKim Fu based in Washington for the collection of stories Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century and Tsering Yangzom Lama of Vancouver for the novel We measure the Earth with our bodies.
This year’s shortlist marked the first time that the finalist books were all written by Canadian BIPOC authors.
“I wrote it because it was a book I wanted to read and couldn’t find anywhere,” Mayr said. Radio-Canada Books.
“I found that a lot of the stories about sleeping car porters tended to focus on labor organizing and the labor movement and black rights in general – but I felt like there had a lack in terms of queer experience. Because I couldn’t ‘Find this book, I decided that I would be the one to write it.’
The 2022 five-person jury was chaired by Canadian writer Casey Plett and also included Canadian authors Kaie Kellough and Waubgeshig Rice and American writers Katie Kitamura and Scott Spencer.
The jury read 138 submitted books, narrowed it down to a long list of 14, and then a shortlist of five.
As only happens in the best historical novels, every page of The Sleeping Car Carrier feels alive and immediate – and oddly contemporary,” the jury said in a statement.
“The sleeping-car porter in this elegant and elegant novel is called RT Baxter – called george by the people he waits for, like all other black porters. Baxter’s dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr’s triumphant novel we follow him not just from Montreal to Calgary, but in and out of life of an indelible cast of supporting characters, and, finally, in beautifully rendered brilliance.”
This year’s in-person televised gala in Toronto, co-hosted by actress Sarah Gadon and poet Rupi Kaur, featured a spoken word performance by Kaur.
Mayr received the $100,000 prize from Elana Rabinovitch, Jack Rabinovitch’s daughter, and Scotiabank Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer John Doig.
Jack Rabinovitch founded the award in honor of his late wife Doris Giller in 1994. Rabinovitch died in 2017 aged 87.
Past Giller Prize winners include Omar El Akkad for What a strange paradiseSouvankham Thammavongsa for How to pronounce knife, Esi Eduyan for Washington Black and Half-Blood Blues, Margaret Atwood for Alias GraceIan Williams for the reproduction and Alice Munro for Run away.
WATCH | The broadcast of the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize
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