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Women Writers Dominate the Giller Prize Nominations
By Joyce Nickel

Not by design, but by coincidence, an unprecedented ten of the twelve long-listed novels for the 2009 Giller Prize are written by women. The annual award, formally known as the Scotiabank Giller Prize, is Canada's single most lucrative literary award. To be eligible for this $50,000 award, a book must be a first-edition full-length novel or short story collection written by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada. For this year's judges, the Giller looked outward from its central Canadian roots and brought in Maritime Canadian author Alistair MacLeod, American novelist Russell Banks, and UK writer Victoria Glendinning. They each read 96 Canadian novels and narrowed the field down to twelve contenders, ten of them written by women authors.

With more than forty books in her ouevre, author and poet Margaret Atwood is an icon of CanLit, and one of the most honored authors of fiction in recent history, including having won the Giller Prize in 1996 for Alias Grace and won Booker Prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin. Her works have been adapted for movies, television, and opera. Her Giller-nominated 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood, revisits the dystopian future she created in Oryx and Crake, this time focusing on members of God's Gardeners—religion devoted to the melding of science, religion, and nature.

Martha Baillie drew on her experiences working at the public library to write her fourth novel, The Incident Report. This intriguing novel is told in 144 brief reports by a librarian working with the "mad and marginalized" who frequent the Toronto Public Library. Baillie was born in Toronto, educated at the University of Edinburgh, the Sorbonne, and the University of Toronto. She still works for part-time for the Toronto Public library which she has done so for nearly twenty years. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

A best seller in Montreal since its release in early spring, The Heart Specialist tells the story of early 20th century doctor Dr. Agnes White (based on real life Dr. Maude Abbott), who "was never considered ladylike. She is drawn to the wrong things, such as anatomy and dissection." Clair Holden Rothman has worked as a lawyer, a teacher, a newspaper columnist and a translator in her native Montreal. The author of two short fiction collections, The Heart Specialist is Rothman's first novel.

US-born Canadian Paulette Jiles wrote The Color of Lightning using oral histories from post-Civil war Texas. The novel winds together the stories of a freed slave and his family as they move west and settle in Texas, and Samuel Hammond, a Quaker who is newly appointed to the Office of Indian Affairs. Jiles, who is also an award-winning poet and a memoirist, is the author of three novels, including the 2003 prize-winning, Enemy Women.

Fast-paced and light-hearted, The Factory Voice is a mystery about four women working at an Ontario military aircraft factory in 1941. Through her novel and her character of Muriel MacGregor, Jeannette Lynes introduces readers to the real person of Elsie McGill, a.k.a. Queen of the Hurricane, Canada's first female aeronautic engineer. This is a first novel for Jeanette Lynes, who is the author of five collections of poetry, and is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Manitoba.

Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland, grew up in Trinidad, and then moved to Canada in the 1980s. An accomplished visual artist, she is the author of five books, including Cereus Blooms at Midnight, a previous finalist for the Giller Prize. Her latest novel, Valmiki's Daughter, tells a story of miscommunication about race, gender, class and sexuality between a Trinidadian daughter and her father.

It took fourteen years for Kate Pullinger to write her novel, The Mistress of Nothing. Not yet released in North America, this historical novel follows a lady's maid as she accompanies her employer—the real life eminent Victorian Lady Lucie Duff Gordon—on a trip to Egypt. Pullinger has previously written nine books, including the novelization of The Piano that she co-wrote with director Jane Campion. She grew up in small towns in British Columbia, attended McGill University and worked in a copper mine in the Yukon Territory before moving to London, England, where she teaches writing.

In early October, the judges narrowed the long list of twelve contenders down to a short list of five which includes the books of three of the female authors. The first of these, Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, is a first person account of Aristotle's relationship with his student, the future Alexander the Great. Although this University of British Columbia creative writing instructor has published short story collections, this is the first novel from this thirty-eight year old from New Westminster, British Columbia. This novel has scored a literary hat trick by garnering three major award nominations: in addition to the Giller, The Golden Mean is also in the running for both Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and, along with Kate Pullinger's The Mistress of Nothing, the Governor General's Award.

Besides writing, Kim Echlin teaches at the University of Toronto, writes documentaries, and produces television for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Her third novel, The Disappeared, is the story of Anne Greve, who falls in love with a Cambodian student she meets at a local Montreal jazz club. He returns to his war-torn country to find his family, and after Anne fails to move on with her life, she decides to follow him, and the "two self-exiled lovers struggle to recreate themselves in a world that rejects their hopes."

The third female finalist on the shortlist is Toronto writer and award-winning poet Anne Michaels, who is known for her bestselling, multi-award winning novel Fugitive Pieces, which was made into a major motion picture in 2007. Her second novel, which comes over a decade after her first, is The Winter Vault. As with her earlier novel, The Winter Vault mixes poetic language with the author's love for botany and science to tell a tender love story and meditation on loss and rebuilding set against the mid-twentieth century Canada and Egypt.

Critics are certain that Too Much Happiness would have been a serious contender for the prize, but the author Alice Munro withdrew it from the running because she has already won the award twice (in 1998 for The Love of a Good Woman and in 2004 for Runaway). Munro, who was recently awarded the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work, pulled her latest book from the competition in order to open opportunities for younger authors. The two male authors also short listed are Colin McAdam for Fall and Linden MacIntyre for The Bishop's Man. The Giller award winner will be announced November 10, 2009.

Note: On November 10th, Linden MacIntyre was named the 2009 winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize.