A pleasant surprise: Toronto’s Giller Light Bash

Scotiabank Giller Light Bash

For those of us who can’t afford to go to the Book Lover’s Ball, the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash is the next best thing. It’s not a black tie event, but it is a chance for publishing professionals, authors, and book lovers alike to adorn themselves in their best outfit, eat delicious appetizers, drink wine, dance, and celebrate books while being catered to an exclusive screening of the Scotiabank Giller Prize winner announcement. It is perfectly described as “a taste of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala formalities with an affordable price in an exciting party environment,” and the proceeds go to Frontier College, Canada’s original literacy organization. It is a well-known and well-attended cultural event that happens one night in six different cities across Canada, all with their own way of celebrating, from cocktail dinners to lively debates: Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and Vancouver.

2014-11-10 20.57.24

The whole point of these one-night celebrations, of course, is the awarding of the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, which is a prestigious honour awarded annually for excellence in fiction in Canada. It’s Canada’s own largest and most important literary award, imbuing confidence and renewed vibrancy into Canadian publishing and giving winning authors renewed or new-found publicity and popularity. Over the years, it has been given to many deserving authors, from Alice Munro to Joseph Boyden.The Scotiabank Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch, who still takes an active part selecting the jury and announcing the winner, and the inspiration for this prize came in memory of his late wife, Doris Giller, who was a successful journalist and editor and had a passion for the Canadian literary scene.

2014 Giller Light Bash adThis year the event was held at the Daniels Spectrum, the cultural hub of Regent Park, and it was a convenient location that was easily walkable from the downtown core area. There was a $3 coat check, however, which wasn’t ideal considering the original ticket price and the fact that wearing a coat (brrr!) was not a viable option. But sacrifices must be made, even if $2 would have been slightly better, and the evening was still a successful one.

It was off to a good start already when I arrived, with plenty of people filing into the surprisingly spacious venue. At the back of the room was the table full of extravagant raffle prizes, featuring bags of books, a pot and pan kitchen set, concert tickets, etc. There was also an opportunity to use a raffle ticket to predict the winning book and, if guessed correctly, an opportunity to score a copy of each Giller shortlist title signed by the author (I didn’t use a raffle ticket for this purpose, and it was probably for the best…I guessed wrong anyway).

The Giller Light Bash is a fun night, but it is also an expensive one. Raffle tickets cost a fair amount of money for just 4 tickets, and drink tickets had a hefty price of 1 ticket for $6 (a bar is cheaper!). The one bonus in regards to drinks was a free trial run of the wine by Barefoot. They conveniently had a booth set up where you could sample all the different types of wine being offered that night, so at least when you bought your $6 glass, you knew you liked it.

litograph tattooAside from the exuberant cost, the Giller Light Bash has its free perks as well. Last year, there was a beautiful selection of posters from Litographs included in the swag bags that everyone was given at the end of the night. This year, Litographs’ new tattoo collection was featured as an event table, where guests could go and select two (or more) literary tattoos that featured lines from Pride and Prejudice  to The Wizard of Oz. You also had the option of putting them on right there and then, which my friend and I promptly did. I chose “Brevity is the Soul of Wit” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my friend chose “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Some guests became obsessed with the literary tattoo option quite quickly. I witnessed one woman who had covered herself in every single tattoo that was available. Needless to say, she was literally showing her support for the classics.

There was also a photo booth set up with a variety of fun and wonky props to try on. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed taking photos throughout the night, some more than once. The one thing about having only 10 seconds for each photo is that usually you end up doing the same pose or just looking ridiculous. I think my friend and I accomplished both these feats.

photo booth at Giller Light Bash

Of course, the highlight of the evening was watching the live broadcast of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala. Rick Mercer hosted, and he was hilarious as always, making smart remarks and teasing the authors during his pre-filmed interviews with each of the shortlisted finalists. He played mad libs with them in addition to asking the big questions, such as what each of them would do with the cash ($100,000!!!!!). Amusingly, Miriam Toews, the author of All My Puny Sorrows, said she would buy a nice warm pair of Sorels (which apparently Mercer bought for her in the end!). And, touchingly, David Bezmozgis, the author of The Betrayers, said it was already spoken for with three growing kids at home (parents — there for you till the end). During the broadcast, there was also a length introduction for each finalist’s book, which were well done. The book trailers were very well done, and I certainly wanted to read all of them by the end of it (unfortunately, I hadn’t read any before the Giller Light Bash). If you can find the book trailers online, I definitely suggest you watch them. Quite the marketing skill was employed in their making. Well done, publishing fellows!

Sean Micheals giller winnerBut what we were all waiting for was the winning announcement, and when it came I was astounded. First-time novelist Sean Michaels won the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his first book Us Conductors. After watching the book trailer at the event, I had already developed an interest in reading the book. I love fiction inspired by Russian history, and on top of that it also contains a romance and the jazz age (who could ask for more from a debut novel?). The only other debut novelist to win the Giller Prize was Johanna Skibsrud for The Sentimentalist in 2010, and besides Michaels, the only other first-time author to capture the prestiguous award was Vincent Lam for his 2006 short story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. Considering how first-time authors often struggle to get the attention of publishers these days, it was touching to see Michaels be rewarded for his determination to succeed. He certainly deserved to be noticed.

After the winning announcement, the Giller Light Bash kicked it up a notch. The DJ turned on the music and the celebrating began with more drinks and dancing. It was a great evening to be a part of. There was also the lovely bonus of receiving a swag bag at the end of the night, which included a new book (you can never have enough books), popcorn, coupons, magazines, popcorn, lip gloss, coconut water, and plenty of other fun trinkets. I was very pleased with the booty.

I still think the evening could drop in price, as many of the other cities celebrating that same night do have cheaper ticket options (except Winnipeg — the odd ball out) and Halifax even has different pricing options, such as a student price. But, aside from the fact that I am incredibly poor and as a result cheap, the Giller Light Bash is an awesome experience where you get to network, meet new people, and have fun with some good friends. Yes, it was on a Monday, but it did make the dreary Monday a little better, even if it was a little more difficult to get up for Tuesday.

Whether you’re new to publishing or just love books, you should definitely consider attending the Giller Light Bash next year. It’s for a good cause and you get to party on a Monday without having to be a university student. A win–win in my books!