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Giller Prize winner Johanna Skibsrud, MA 05, hails from Concordia

November 10, 2010

After being labeled “the darkest horse” in the Giller Prize race by The Toronto Star, Concordia alumna Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel, The Sentimentalists, has earned the number one spot.

The Sentimentalists

With one poetry novel under her belt, and a PhD dissertation on the way, Skibsrud’s win has taken the author by (very pleasant) surprise.

She had been called back from a long-anticipated trip with her mother to attend the ceremony in Toronto on November 9. In her speech, she thanked her mother, and her late father, who served as inspiration for the work.

She describes her novel, The Sentimentalists, about the relationship between a woman and her Vietnam war veteran father as mining “the themes of loss and buried memory, as well as the complexities of family relationships.”

Gaspereau Press, based in the Maritimes where Skibsrud grew up, published the novel. “The book weaves together fact and fiction — the Vietnam sections of the novel are loosely based on the stories that my father told me about his own experiences as a marine during the Vietnam War — and in particular during a controversial operation that resulted in the civilian deaths,” wrote Skibsrud, while in France just before the announcement.

The Giller prize was established in 1993. This year’s jury presented the novel as “the painful search by a dutiful daughter to learn — and more importantly, to learn to understand — the multi-layered truth which lies at the moral core of her dying father’s life.”

The book’s earlier incarnation was her thesis work in Concordia’s Creative Writing Program. Skibsrud’s father had read that version in 2008 before he passed away. Skibsrud credits both her supervisor Mikhail Iossell, and Stephanie Bolster, who also served on her committee for being sources of support and encouragement during her writing.

Skibsrud is very pleased with the attention her nomination has garnered. “It’s particularly exciting to see a lot of small presses and younger writers on the Giller list this year. There are so many incredibly talented young Canadian writers producing today and therefore always more and more exciting work that needs exposure — it’s so important to find ways to continuously promote that.”

Related links:
•   Scotiabank Giller Prize
•   Concordia Department of English
•   The Gazette

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