Bookseller John H. Meier, Jr. is the curator of the finest collection of Governor General Award for Fiction winners in the world. To help spread awareness about Canadian literary arts, Meier formed the W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation. The organization is exhibiting a complete first editions collection of Governor General′s Literary Award winners for Fiction in cities across Canada over the coming years.
AbeBooks - So first of all, can you tell us a bit about your collection?
John H. Meier - "The Governor General′s Literary Award for Fiction collection consists of over five hundred volumes. Many of these include various issues of the American, British, Canadian, and Australian editions, galleys, uncorrected proofs, trial dust jackets, advance review copies, association copies, author copies, letters and ephemera. "
Abe - Will the entire collection be exhibited on each stop?
John H. Meier - "The W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation will exhibit/tour highlights from the collection at each venue. In each city we exhibit in the Foundation will partner with appropriate local groups such as educational organizations, writer′s festivals, and museums to showcase highlights from the collection.
I will personally select a number of books and associated material appropriate for each venue. Most universities and galleries only have space to exhibit approximately 100 items or less. This is still enough to showcase one volume of each winning book and a sampling of advance states and ephemera. We will also exhibit some rare unpublished author letters related to their winning book. "
AbeBooks –So the exhibit may change a bit from city to city?
John H. Meier - "If we have the space, at some future venues, we would like to exhibit two hundred plus volumes which represents all of the first English language editions including many advance states."
AbeBooks –Which is the most valuable tome in the collection?
John H. Meier – "There are many rare and valuable books and ephemera in the collection. Some of the most valuable are three author copies, association copies (inscribed from one GG winner to another), and many early proofs and galleys. For example the first GG winning title, Bertram Brooker′s Think of the Earth (1936) is the author′s reading copy (including his hand written notes) that he held in his hands and read from at the first award ceremony. Some of the early titles are the only copies in existence in dust jackets. "
AbeBooks –Have you read every winner of the fiction prize? Do you have a favourite?
John H. Meier - "I′ve read over forty of the winning titles in the fiction category. I do intend on reading all of the winners. I am often asked which is my favourite. That is difficult to answer since there are so many great titles. Some of my personal favourites, for various reasons, are: Ringuet′s Thirty Acres (1940), Hugh MacLennan′s The Watch That Ends the Night (1959), Alice Munro′s Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), Robert Kroetsch′s The Studhorse Man (1969), Mordecai Richler′s St Urbain′s Horseman (1971), Rudy Wiebe′s The Temptations of Big Bear (1973), George Bowering′s Burning Water (1980), Nino Ricci′s Lives of the Saints (1990), Carol Shields′ The Stone Diaries (1993), and Guy Vanderhaeghe′s The Englishman′s Boy (1996). "
AbeBooks –Are there winners who have fallen into the shadows over the years?
John H. Meier – "There are many early titles that have fallen into obscurity. One of the first that comes to mind is Gwethalyn Graham′s Earth and High Heaven published in 1944. This title has the distinction of being the first Canadian novel to achieve best-seller status in the United States. It was published by J.B. Lippincott (trade) and The Literary Guild (book-club). Within an eight-month period over 665,000 copies had sold - a phenomenal number for the time. Only recently has there been a renewed interest in Graham′s work."
AbeBooks –Whenever the topic of awards come up conversations about judging controversy are sure to follow. Have there been any scandals in the awards history?
John H. Meier – "There have been many controversies over the years. One of the earliest was Igor Gouzenkoís The Fall of a Titan published in 1954. Gouzenko was a Russian cipher clerk who defected in Canada shortly after the Second World War. Soon after the announcement that this title won one of the jurors quit over the decision. It appeared that Gouzenko was being rewarded for his defection rather than the quality of his writing. The juror felt that Robertson Daviesí Levin of Malice should have won. "
AbeBooks –How would you explain the cultural significance of the Governor General′s award to Canada?
John H. Meier –"The Governor General′s Literary Award has become, since its inception in 1937, Canada′s premier literary award. The list of winning titles represents some of the best writing in Canada in the twentieth century. The collection as a whole also represents a publishing and graphic design history in Canada for over seventy years. Although, some of the early titles seem dated in style or subject matter they still tell a compelling story of our cultural heritage. "
AbeBooks –Who would you advise to come to the exhibits?
John H. Meier –"The exhibit and author readings are meant for all Canadians including high school and university students, general readers, collectors, scholars, librarians, and graphic artists. Our mandate is to increase the general public′s understanding and appreciation of the literary heritage of Canada. "
AbeBooks –Do you plan on adding anything further to you collection?
John H. Meier – "I am also in the process of completing a collection of the Governor General′s poetry winners in the same depth as the fiction. I anticipate that it will take a few more years to complete this collection. "
For more information about the work of the W.A. Deacon Literary Foundation and to find when the Governor Generalís Award Collection will exhibit near you check the societyís website www.ggawards.ca