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English professor's novel named to Giller Prize longlist


English professor’s novel named to Giller Prize Longlist

Suzette Mayr is both elated and suspicious. Her fourth novel, Monoceros, has reached the first phase of what many consider to be the pinnacle of success in Canadian fiction when it was named to the long list for the Giller Prize earlier this month.

“Having served on literary prize juries myself, I know it can be a crap shoot in terms of who gets nominated, but on the other hand, having been nominated, I’m thrilled and feel validated to be recognized by my peers in this way,” says Mayr, an associate professor of English and former Canadian Writer in Residence in the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program.

The book’s title is taken from a constellation on the celestial equator, which cannot be seen by the naked eye. Such is the central figure of Mayr’s novel – a high school boy who fell under the radar of the students and teachers near him, yet around whom a flurry of activity, emotions and questions circulate among those who lived only on the periphery of his life following his tragic suicide. The seed for Monoceros was planted after Mayr learned about the suicide of a student of a Calgary Catholic high school at which her partner was a teacher.

“Since it was a suicide and a young person, the school board made the decision not to publically recognize his death,” Says Mayr. “It was later discovered that this boy was gay. I felt great grief for him and the struggle he must have gone through even though we had never met. I like to think of this novel as me laying a flower at his shrine.”

As an author and creative writing professor, Mayr is in the business of illuminating the human condition and helping students to see the role the art of fiction plays in our society.

“It is not the case that there is a division between literature and life,” says Mayr. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe was a work of fiction that was integral for helping to abolish slavery by activating and energizing people to make change. Fiction readers have considerable empathy and are able to identify with people and have access to worlds we would not otherwise be able to enter.”

Her advice to the many would-be and emerging writers?

“Emerging writers should follow their instincts and have integrity in their writing. Some will have success early on but all writers have differences processes and paces. And remember, prizes and bling don’t get the writing done.”