Presentation of the Governor General’s Literary Awards
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Rideau Hall, Thursday, November 25, 2010
It is a great pleasure for Sharon and me to welcome you to Rideau Hall. We are here tonight to celebrate literature and the people who have contributed to Canada’s literary landscape.
My grandchildren call me Grandpa Book. As you may suspect, the name does not come without just cause, as I am always seen with a book. I try to tell them stories that they have never heard before, but, of course, there are always those stories I am particularly fond of retelling.
I am not only a champion of literature, but I am also an enthusiastic reader. Books are wonderful gateways to places seen only in our imaginations. They introduce us to people, both fictional and real, and teach us lessons that will stay with us for our entire lives.
I am reminded of the words of Réjean Ducharme, translated by Barbara Bay: “A book is a world, a complete world, with a beginning and an end. Every page is a town. Every line a street. Every word a house. My eyes rove through the street, opening each door, entering each house.”
I take every opportunity to introduce my grandchildren to worlds they have never seen before. And through them, I discover old worlds with fresh eyes.
That is why I am so excited to be here with some of the very best novelists, non-fiction writers, poets, illustrators, translators and playwrights in Canada, and to honour some of the best works of the past year.
And what a year it has been for Canadian literature—English and French books, plays and poetry of every genre, of every type and for all ages. The creators themselves are as diverse as the material, yet they produce distinctly Canadian works.
I enjoy discovering new writers, doubly so when they are Canadian, because I can identify more with the writer’s voice. I can say that this author—like me, like you, like everyone across the country—is helping to define our country’s identity, which can only happen if we choose to pay attention.
In my installation speech, I spoke of a smart and caring nation.
Robertson Davies once wrote: “A nation without a literature is not a nation.” I would also add that a nation that ignores its literature and languages, that neglects to teach and encourage children to read and write, is not a nation either, or if it is a nation, it is one without a soul and an inspiration.
Literacy is a vital part of our education system and an important part of everyday life, as it forms the basis for all other learning. Through reading, we learn how English and French have evolved over time, and we learn how to write ourselves. It is only through reading and writing that we can truly appreciate our languages. By opening a book, by supporting quality education, we not only foster a love of the printed word, we create a lifelong commitment to language.
In seven short years, the country will mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. That is 150 years of Canadian achievements; 150 years of Canadian literature. It is therefore only fitting that one of the oldest offices in Canada celebrate literary contributions.
Lord Tweedsmuir, a former governor general and prolific author, once said: “Let us remember that great literature is one and indivisible.” He created these awards in 1936 with the idea that Canada, as a united and then still-fledgling nation, could begin to forge its own identity and vision, separate from other Commonwealth countries. We listened and we created.
I am just reading a biography of Lord Tweedsmuir, a.k.a. John Buchan, author of Thirty-Nine Steps by Janet Adam Smith. It is a great read and my wife has made an office in a small room used by him with all his books just down the hall. It’s the best room in this big house.
I am delighted to congratulate this year’s laureates of the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Tonight, you join a long list of notable Canadians. You also carry the responsibility of inspiring those who have a desire to tell a story and a hope of being published. They are the ones who dream of being where you are sitting right now. Hopefully, their writing will join yours in influencing where we go as a nation.
Because there is no greater authority on ourselves than our stories.
Stories sustain us and bind us together. They show us where we are going and where we have been. They are records of our imagination and of our grammatical evolution. They entertain us, move us, change us and challenge us. They capture our attention before we are even able to read and they never let us go. Stories—in the form of a book, a play, or a poem—give us the means with which to look at ourselves and ask why—or, perhaps more importantly—why not.
In this age of new technology and new ways of sharing ideas, the question is not only how our stories will evolve, but also how we will share our Canadian identity with the world. You have brought us closer to answering this question.
I congratulate you and thank you for giving us stories, worlds in which to immerse ourselves, and for allowing us a glimpse into the future of our Canadian identity.