Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs,
Before I tell you how big a deal winning a Governor-General’s Award is in this country, I would like to thank four people: my wife Rosa and son David, to whom The Roaring Girl is dedicated; my brilliant editor at Somerville House, Patrick Crean; and finally, Barbara Gowdy, an extraordinary writer, who was kind enough to first draw Patrick’s attention to my work.
Now let me tell you how big a deal this is. When our new postwoman, whom I had never met, rang our doorbell the other day and handed me the sealed letter from the Canada Council notifying me that I had won the fiction award, she said, Congratulations.
I am grateful to receive this award at an age when I am not so young that I might think it was for my self and not for the craft. And not so old that I do not feel I am just getting started. I have been writing fiction for twenty-five years–I can admit that now–and I know that I spent the first fifteen of those years trying to understand who I was talking to, in order to understand what they might already know and therefore what was unnecessary to be said. I don’t think I could overstate the importance for an artist, however local his or her subject, of working to speak to the widest possible community. This is not a matter of levelling down, and it is not a matter of violating one’s own cultural integrity, it is a matter of working to discover what it is necessary to say to another human being on this earth.
I was ten years old in 1957 when Parliament established the Canada Council for the purpose of fostering and promoting the arts in this country. In a generation and a half the Council has created a world-class Canadian literary culture by a process of fostering that is itself in the eyes of other national governments a wonder of the world. Of course it is in the Canadian character to be more than blind, to be hostile to the virtues of what we have. But I will say how crucial I believe it is to the cultural health of this country, and therefore to this country, for artists to continue to have a national funding and honouring agency. And I am going to add that I believe the forces that are working to provincialize the arts share an identity with the forces that are working in the provinces to pass down arts funding decisions to the communities. I believe that these forces are essentially if not hostile to art then uninformed about its nature. Artistic endeavour is finally an endeavour for the sake of all that is best in the people, in all the people, and when governments forget that they do disservice to us all.
This is a genuine, major honour. I do understand what it means. And I hope that for many years to come, artists from every reach of this country will be given the opportunity to walk up here and tell you the same.
Toronto, November 1995