Presentation of the 2016 Governor General’s Literary Awards
Rideau Hall, Wednesday, November 30, 2016
It was the founder of these awards, John Buchan, who famously said that when it comes to matters of public policy, governors general should stick to the “governor generalities.”
Leave it to a writer to come up with that one!
And what a writer John Buchan was, penning 120 books in his lifetime.
But rather than speak in governor generalities tonight, I want to talk about the specific, the individual, the particular literary achievements we’re here to celebrate.
I am of course talking about the remarkable books our laureates have written, illustrated and translated.
What gifts you have given us. What gifts you have given to Canada and the world.
And in fact, each of you has given us a whole world in itself. With great skill and artistry, you have populated it with people and places, ideas and actions.
Some of you have given us wholly imaginary worlds.
Others of you, worlds that recreate the one we live in, past and present.
And sometimes, you have given us a bit of both, some fact and some fiction.
In doing so, you entertain us, you enlighten us and you challenge us to expand our minds and our hearts.
You make us cry, laugh and think.
It’s amazing what a great book can do.
I can’t help thinking of my old English teacher at Sault Collegiate, Miss Wilkinson.
She knew the power of great books.
Miss Wilkinson showed me how literature can serve as a lens through which we can view our lives and our changing world.
In fact, one of the letters in my book ‘The Idea of Canada’ was addressed to Miss Wilkinson in gratitude for what she taught me.
I think she would be happy and not a little amused to see her young pupil David Johnston—who didn’t even know the difference between poetry and prose—here with so many of Canada’s literary greats on the 80th anniversary of these awards.
I think she would be so delighted to read your works and to learn about our times and faraway people and places through the lenses you have provided.
And, I think she’d probably also be ready to test us on our knowledge of Canadian literature!
Thanks to your hard work, imagination and remarkable talent, your works have joined the ranks of great Canadian literature!
It’s a wonderful accomplishment, and I thank and congratulate each of you on this well-deserved honour.
I would also like to thank your publishers, editors, mentors, agents, friends and family members, because as you well know, a great book is never a purely solitary act.
And I want to thank the jury members for their dedication to literature, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts for its wise and impassioned stewardship of these awards, now in their 80th year.
Thank you all.
Have a wonderful evening at Rideau Hall.