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Ghanaian-born Esi Edugyan wins Canada’s richest literary prize

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Esi Edugyan with her plague. Credit: Chris Young/Canadian Press

Ghanaian-born Esi Edugyan has won the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary awards with her novel, Half-Blood Blues published by Thomas Allen Publishers.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize, the largest annual literary prize, is given to an author of the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English.

Esi Edugyan was named winner of the prize which comes with $50,000 at a black-tie dinner and award ceremony held November 8, 2011 in Canada and was attended by over 500 members of the publishing, media and arts communities. The gala was broadcast live on CBC’s bold, livestreamed on cbc.ca/books, and aired on CBC Television at 11:05 p.m. (11:35 p.m. NT).

She received a huge plague.

Edugyan, 33, was born in Calgary to Ghanaian parents but now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Organizers say they received an unprecedented 143 books by 55 publishing houses from every region of Canada for consideration for the prize. But Edugyan found herself in the final shortlist of six authors and eventually took the top prize.

Of the winning book (Half-Blood Blues), the judging panel wrote: “Imagine Mozart were a black German trumpet player and Salieri a bassist, and 18th century Vienna were WWII Paris; that’s Esi Edugyan’s joyful lament, Half-Blood Blues.  It’s conventional to liken the prose in novels about jazz to the music itself, as though there could be no higher praise. In this case, say rather that any jazz musician would be happy to play the way Edugyan writes.  Her style is deceptively conversational and easy, but with the simultaneous exuberance and discipline of a true prodigy.  Put this book next to Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” – these two works of art belong together.”

Half-Blood Blues

Half-Blood Blues is the story of four jazz musicians in Nazi-occupied Paris, and moves between 1940s Paris, where the group is trying to record an album, and 1992 Poland, where elderly bassist Sid is tracking down an old friend.

Pop singer Nelly Furtado introduced Half-Blood Blues at the Giller gala, saying the book “proves there’s music in her soul.”

In her acceptance speech, Esi Edugyan was quoted by the CBC, partner of the prize, as saying “Thank you so much. A prize like this does so much to promote literature in Canada and the world and I’m so honoured and pleased to accept this.”

Esi Edugyan has degrees from the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. Her works have appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003. Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne was published internationally to critical acclaim.

Edugyan is also a nominee for the Man Booker Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the 2011 Canada’s Governor General’s Award for English language fiction.

By Ekow Quandzie

Watch Esi talking about her book

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