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Topics in Modern/Contemporary Canadian Literature I

The Scotiabank Giller Prize and Literary Prize Culture

Scotiabank Giller

What is “literary value”? How and by whom is it determined in specific historical moments and cultural milieus? And what are the processes of production and consumption in which it is embedded? This seminar will explore ideological notions of “literary value” alongside institutional processes of “canon formation” through intensive analysis of the five works short-listed for the current year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize—the richest prize in Canadian letters.

As literary critic James English argues, “the prize is cultural practice in its quintessential contemporary form,” and it is precisely this contemporary entanglement of commercial and aesthetic logics at work in bestowing literary prizes that we will focus on in this course. Marshalling students’ critical and creative acumen, we will debate the relative value and significance of the five short-listed works both on their own (literary) terms and in relation to such concepts as symbolic capital, cultural consecration, and the national/global production of literary canons. Students will consider what makes art meaningful, impactful, and worthy of recognition in a variety of registers, while developing understandings of the politics and economics of contemporary publishing and prize culture. As we will likely all be reading these works for the first time, there will be no authorized experts in the room; rather we will work collectively and collaboratively to generate understandings in a dynamic seminar format.


Assessments consist of:

  • Regular attendance and engaged participation
  • Short individual presentations or a larger group presentation
  • Short written assignments
  • Preparation for an  interview with (a) member(s) of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury
  • The course will culminate in the Queen’s University Scotiabank Giller Prize Event in March, which will involve this year’s winning author and will be planned, organized, and administered entirely by the students of this class. All students are expected to be present for the Giller Prize Event
  • The final assignment will be reflective in nature

**Assessments subject to change**



  • ENGL 200
  • ENGL 290

Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74446 extension 74446


Telephone (613) 533-6000 ext. 74447 extension 74447

Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.