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Presentation of the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Awards
Rideau Hall, Thursday, November 26, 2009
I see books as an immense space.
An endless field that you, as authors, clear and sow with your ideas.
They are eternal spaces where the thoughts of women and men span the ages and continue to light the way for all of humanity. Spaces where the destinies of characters live on in us, characters who could not be closer to our reality if they were made of flesh and bone. Books are reborn every time we read them.
They are spaces of incomparable freedom. For you, as writers, the blank page is your limitless sky, and each of your words transports us, your readers, to another place, a place where there is nothing to stop us from thinking, imagining or becoming someone else. That is how books show us everything that life has to offer, boundless and unimpeded.
Books are spaces to explore the many dimensions and full complexity of the world and life itself. Ideas flow, from spirit to spirit, age to age. Unexplored places are discovered, and the unknown disappears, widening the horizons of understanding. Books carve out new paths for us to follow so we can access the enormous, full universe that is the human experience.
And they are places to internalize and embrace a kind of selfless solitude. Both the author and the reader are turned inward, toward that restless, intimate part of themselves where people are most vulnerable, the part that is both unique and universal. Books steer us towards a world that is entirely our own.
They are revealing spaces, showing us the realities of the world, both dark and illuminating. Where life falters and where it triumphs. Books show us the very core of who we are. They address that part of us that only wants to hear a kind voice, a voice that resonates within us as strongly as our own heartbeat.
The books I love are one of our last defences, where the act of thinking is still possible in a world that is caught up in its quest for urgency and is too often reduced to the lowest common denominator. They are spaces where we can question our certainties, prejudices, popular ideas and conventions. Books are what multiply our points of view and enrich our lives with new perspectives.
Last night, we held our 43rd Art Matter/Point des art forum with the public and several laureates and two incredible panellists—Serge Bouchard, anthropologist, writer, communicator, lecturer, and Noah Richler, also writer, producer, book reviewer and experienced journalist—who explored the nature of our Canadian literature and our Canadian identity from their own perspective.
Books are spaces we need to live in and work tirelessly to hold on to, in our questioning, our dreams, our emotions and our experience.
And they must be accessible to as many people as possible, in every language, according to one of my predecessors, Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, also known under his pen name, John Buchan. He is the one who created this award.
Fifty years ago, the Canada Council for the Arts picked up the literary torch lit by John Buchan, who wrote a number of books, including The 39 Steps, which Alfred Hitchcock brought to the screen.
Over time, the Council broadened the scope of these awards to better reflect the abundance and wealth of French- and English-language Canadian literature, including non-fiction, children’s literature—text and illustration—and translation.
We owe the Canada Council for the Arts great thanks for their 50 years of commitment to Canada’s literary community. Fifty years of support to these creators, our writers, our illustrators, our masters of translation, who must absolutely be acknowledged as the raw materials from which books are made and then distributed by publishers.
To you—Julie Mazzieri and Kate Pullinger, Hélène Monette and David Zieroth, Suzanne Lebeau and Kevin Loring, Nicole Champeau and M.G. Vassanji, Hervé Bouchard and Caroline Pignat, Janice Nadeau and Jirina Marton, Paule Noyart and Susan Ouriou— I say thank you!
Thank you for creating endless, dazzling spaces of beauty, magic and adventure.