TORONTO — Acclaimed Calgary humorist Will Ferguson captured Canada's most lucrative literary prize on Tuesday night, winning the $50,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel "419.''
"I'd like to raise a toast to the written word,'' the kilt-wearing Ferguson said as he accepted the award, pulling out a flask.
"So. Thanks. Ladies and gentlemen: To the written word. And finally, to answer the question you're all wondering — yes I have something on underneath!''
Ferguson's winning novel, about an email scam, marked a serious turn for the comedic writer, who has written a dozen books ranging from budget travel guides to works of literary fiction.
See all the nominees, story continues below slideshow:
Penning a more serious work clearly didn't cause Ferguson, 48, to lose any of his satiric edge.
Earlier in the night, when asked about the lavish praise the Giller judging panel has heaped on "419,'' he quipped: "I think that means they suspect I have incriminating photographs of (them), which I don't.''
His book was up against titles by Montreal-bred authors Nancy Richler, Alix Ohlin and Kim Thuy. Rounding out the Giller short list was Russell Wangersky of St. John's.
With a short list chock-full of newcomers, this year's Giller was said to be a wide open race. Some of the nominees sounded downright dazed to be included at the glitzy awards show.
Wangersky, who attended the black-tie bash with his editor-wife Leslie Vryenhoek, found the experience "very, very strange.''
"It's a long way from working in your kitchen and making sure the cat's water dish is full, which is more like what writers deal with,'' said the journalist, nominated for his short story collection "Whirl Away.''
"(These aren't) my clothes — it's my shoes and my bow tie and the rest of it is someone else's stuff. It's very, very different.''
Ohlin's "Inside'' — about a group of characters trying to help each other — is also up for the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust of Canada fiction prize. The author — who was raised in Montreal and is now a professor of creative writing at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn., — said the nominations have helped readers find her work.
"I'm not someone that anyone had ever heard very much about in Canada up until now, so the idea that anyone is talking about the books at all, or reading them or emailing me about it, it's very new and it feels very wonderful.''
Hosted for the second year in a row by CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi, the show _ broadcast from the Ritz Carlton — featured presentations from actress Kim Cattrall, gold medallist Rosie MacLennan and actor Allan Hawco.
Established in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, literary journalist Doris Giller, the prize celebrates the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English. Finalists receive $5,000.
This year's jury members — Roddy Doyle of Ireland, Gary Shteyngart of New York, and Toronto-based Anna Porter — read 142 works of fiction submitted by 51 publishing houses from across Canada.
Richler was nominated for the mother-daughter post-war saga "The Imposter Bride'' (Harper Collins Canada), and Thuy for the immigrant novel "Ru'' (Random House of Canada), translated by Sheila Fischman from the original French version that won a 2010 Governor General's Literary Award.