The Giller Prize is Canada’s most prestigious literary award—and the biggest cash-money, doling out a cool $100,000 to the winner, plus $10,000 to each finalist. (Past winners include Alice Munro, Joseph Boyden, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler.) This year was more buzzy than many, with two major upsets: Jian Ghomeshi’s dismissal from MC duties after hosting the past several years, and newbie writer Sean Michaels’ win—over industry favourites Miriam Toews and Heather O’Neill—for his book about the inventor of the theremin, Us Conductors. Adding to the upset, Michaels delivered an epic 4½-minute acceptance speech, in which he called out Ghomeshi for “behaving monstrously.”
Pre-show, whispers abounded about whether the replacement host, Rick Mercer, would make any reference to the disgraced Ghomeshi. Mercer nodded at the elephant in the CBC room right away, labelling himself “Giller filler,” which resulted in an approving wave of applause. Later in the show, he acknowledged that Carol Off, host of As It Happens, was in attendance. “Carol Off, everyone. That is the name you should associate with the CBC.” The room clapped madly in condemnation of the CBC’s former poster boy.
The real uproar happened, however, when the winner was announced. Scanning the room, you could see open mouths and hear screams of surprise as a stunned Sean Michaels stumbled to the podium to deliver his nervous speech, which ran over the time allotted for a musical performance and Rick’s outro. What took so long? Michaels used his time on TV to issue a call to action against Ghomeshi and his ilk. “As we’ve been reminded in recent months, there are people in our little corner of culture who have behaved monstrously,” he said. “We have to reckon with that, and change it. Each of us does. We must believe women, and the men, too… As the poet Sina Queyras wrote, Let’s go forth and undo harm. Let’s go forth and do.”