Scotiabank Giller Prize gala ushers in the return of in-person awards glamour

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TORONTO — It’s the coronation many artists spend their careers striving for: taking to the stage in full dress to the applause of their peers, and accepting an award for mastery of their craft.

Scotiabank Giller Prize organizers intend to make that dream a reality for one Canadian writer Monday as they usher in the return of in-person awards glamour at a televised gala.

The star-studded soiree at Toronto's Park Hyatt hotel will reunite the Canadian literati after the COVID-19 crisis forced the Giller to go digital last year.

While other literary awards opted for a second round of remote ceremonies this fall, executive director Elana Rabinovitch says the Giller made it a priority to bring back the pageantry of the fall books season within public health constraints, dusting off the red carpet to properly fete the five finalists for the $100,000 honour.

"Last year, even though we had a virtual gala, it's just not the same thing," Rabinovitch said. "We're going back to tradition."

"It's a chance to get dressed up, to really put on your finest and glam out and to feel like you're sort of back to the before times."

The black-tie affair will be even more exclusive than usual as the guest list has been slashed by more than half to just shy of 200 people, down from about 450 in previous years, Rabinovitch said.

Attendees will be asked to show proof of vaccination and photo ID to enter the cocktail area, where they'll be allowed to take off their masks while making chit-chat over crudités.

Based on the in-person festivities leading up to Monday's gala, Rabinovitch said she expects there will be an extra "frisson of excitement in the air" as guests rub elbows for the first time after nearly two years of social distancing.

"Our social muscles have atrophied," she said, recalling the atmosphere of the Giller short list announcement last month.

"It wasn't awkward in a bad way. It was awkward in a really sort of dynamic way."

The ballroom will be styled to evoke the intimacy of a jazz supper club, with guests seated at banquettes as they dine and enjoy performances by Measha Brueggergosman and the Denzal Sinclaire Quartet, said Rabinovitch.

She said organizers felt this theme would evoke some of the Giller's signature lustre, while being mindful not to turn up the wattage too high lest they send the wrong message.

"You don't want to go so luxe that it just it feels like you're ignoring the realities of the world out there."

Barry Avrich, executive producer and creative director of the Giller television show, said he expects this year's CBC broadcast, co-hosted by actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and poet Rupi Kaur,will restore the sense of occasion befitting of "the Oscars of the book world."

"Having a live feel to it is paramount to really reflecting the essence of what an award show is," the filmmaker said.

"You look to the audience as a visceral cue to what you should be excited about and what you should react to, and you can feel the drama in the room as you lead up to the big moment."

It will be a far cry from last year's production, said Avrich, which featured a mix of pre-recorded cameos and live feeds of the finalists beaming in from their respective bunkers.

"People watching at home have spent nearly two years of watching people in their apartments and their kitchens and their basements," he said. "They are interested in seeing something that has a little bit more visual expression and escape, so we will provide that."

The nominees vying to win the Giller on Monday are:

— Omar El Akkad for his novel "What Strange Paradise," published by McClelland & Stewart

— Angélique Lalonde, nominated for her story collection "Glorious Frazzled Beings," published by House of Anansi

— Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia for her novel "The Son of The House," published by Dundurn Press

— Jordan Tannahill for his novel "The Listeners," published by HarperCollins Canada

— Miriam Toews for her novel "Fight Night," published by Knopf Canada

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2021.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version that moved Sunday, Nov. 7 misstated the name of the performer as the Ian Sinclair Quartet. In fact, the performer is the Denzal Sinclaire Quartet.

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