Souvankham Thammavongsa won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her short story collection 'How to Pronounce Knife.' (Sarah Bodri)

Immigrant stories win one of Canada’s top literary awards

Souvankham Thammavongsa has won this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize for her collection of short stories called How to Pronounce Knife, published by McClelland & Stewart. The jury wrote: “ How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose…These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land.” 

Jurors said the winning book portrays the immigrant experience “in achingly beautiful prose.” (Sarah Bodri)

English is not winner’s first language

Thammavongsa was born in a Lao refugee camp in Thailand. She and her family came to Canada where at first, they lived in the basement of a Toronto family that had sponsored them. She took classes in English as a second language.  “Thirty-six years ago, I went to school and I pronounced the word ‘knife’ wrong,” she told viewers of the virtual awards ceremony. “And I didn’t get a prize. But tonight there is one.”

Dr. Seema Marwaha, masked, went to Souvankham Thammavongsa’s home to present her award. ( Nathan Dharamshi)

Front line health workers took part

The ceremony is usually a flashy gala held in Toronto. But because of the pandemic, finalists stayed at home and were presented their prizes virtually.  To honour their work during this pandemic, front line health workers were sent to the finalists’ home to present the prizes.

First prize is $100,000. The four other finalists each get $10,000. They are:

  • Gil Adamson, for her novel Ridgerunner, published by House of Anansi Press 
  • David Bergen, for his short story collection Here The Dark, published by Biblioasis 
  • Shani Mootoo, for her novel Polar Vortex, published by Book*hug Press 
  • Emily St. John Mandel, for her novel The Glass Hotel, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • (BT/A and Scotiabank Giller Prize)

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Immigration & Refugees
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