Just over a month ago, The Family Way was shortlisted for the F.G. Bressani Literary Prize—an award that goes to a book written by an Italian-Canadian author. This is the first nomination I’ve received for either of my books, and it feels wonderful to finally be recognized by one’s peers this way.
Literary prizes are anxiety-provoking. If a writer tells you that they pay them no mind, they’re probably lying. We all get swept up in award season. If you have a book out, your antennae go up as you enter the fall. Then, the shortlists come at you fast and hard, one after the other: The Giller, the GG, the Writer’s Trust, Canada Reads. In Quebec, we also have the QWF Literary Awards and the Grand Prix du livre de Montréal. And when you are LGBTQ, you also have the Lambdas and Publishing Triangle to look forward to every summer. So, for about 12 months you’re on your toes.
After Pluto received no nominations back in 2014, I told myself I wasn’t going to pay attention this year. I didn’t want to be as disappointed as I was time, missing out on prizes I thought I had an actual shot at. Well, I failed at that completely. Even though I had removed certain dates in my calendar and unfollowed various social media accounts, I still felt a sense of anticipation. It’s a strange thing to put a book out into the world and wait with bated breath to see how people respond. I wish I could say I’m above it all, but I’m not. Wrapping up your expectations (or your dreams, more likely) in accolades can be dangerous. It can play with your confidence and make you feel like an imposter and a fraud. Sometimes, that’s how I feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my books. And I know how random awards are. For years, I administered the CBC Literary Prizes and chaired dozens of juries. It was something to be a fly on the wall and listen as legendary writers debated the merits of different works of literature. Sometimes great stories ended up off shortlists because jurors had to negotiate and compromise. And the writers of those works will never know how close they came to being feted. Juries can be fickle, and decisions political. Another set of jurors would choose a completely different shortlist. So, what’s the point in getting caught up with the idea of “best” when there’s no such thing?
Still, I do know what winning or even being nominated for a prize can bring. In the case of the CBC Literary Awards, it often brought the interest of agents and further publication. Being able to include that you were shortlisted for a prize can get your next text bumped to the top of the submission pile. And having your book nominated for even the most modest of prizes can mean things like invitations to festivals, more reviews and interviews, offers of translation, additional sales and, of course, new readers.
I don’t know what, if anything, being nominated for the Bressani will bring to my career. I don’t know how competitive the competition was, or if I even have shot at winning. Still, whatever the outcome, I mean it when I say—I am just happy to be nominated.