UNB student Fawn Parker longlisted for the Giller Prize

Portraits of Fawn Parker, the winner for the University of New Brunswick Long Giller List. (Submitted:Steph Martyniuk)

Fawn Parker writes 1,500 words per day. She has completed one manuscript per year and published one book per year, for the last three years.

Parker writes at the kitchen table and in her bed, but usually she writes at her desk.

“[My] desk faces out of my office window which overlooks the roof of the shed and some trees. On a clear day I can just barely see the river through the branches,” explained Parker.

Sitting at her large white desk, she sees books on the far right, stacked in the order she wants to read them; Jean Rhys’ After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, Sue Sinclair’s Almost Beauty, and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina. A lamp stands next to a metal tea tin full of pens. Her agenda and three notebooks all with specific and different purposes lay next to her laptop.

“[Writing] is always the first thing I do in a day and if I don’t finish, then whatever was supposed to happen next isn’t happening,” she said.

Parker’s third novel, What We Both Know, which was published earlier this year, was put on the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is awarded yearly to the author of the best Canadian novel, graphic novel or short story collection published in English. Each year a longlist is released which is narrowed down to a shortlist and a winner is chosen from that group. This year, fourteen titles made it onto the longlist.

Parker is pursuing her doctorate in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick and was shocked when she saw her name on the longlist.

“I never thought it would happen to me because I’ve always identified as a fringe, independent writer who might find a niche audience one day, but I just never saw myself in that award sphere,” said Parker.

She explained that after her name was put on the longlist, she had to fight the urge to write for the interests of the Giller Prize judges and not for herself and her audience. Parker also said she felt disoriented by the loss of anonymity she previously held in the writing space.

What We Both Know explores the experience of Hillary Greene, a middle-aged woman taking care of her father, a fairly famous Canadian author, who battles with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Greene helps her father as a ghost writer for his memoir as he cannot remember the events of his past.

“I liked the idea of a man at the end of his career, starting to lose his grip on his own identity and watching his own interviews from the past and questioning what is a person’s identity,” said Parker.

The novel takes place at the start of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and explores the themes of being a woman in the publishing industry and academia.

“Writing about the [publishing] industry, it’s impossible not to also write about sexual assault and abuse of authority because those things are just so intrinsic to these spaces,” said Parker.

Parker explained that she tried to keep the novel light to inject some absurdity and humour into a novel with potentially difficult or disturbing content.

David Huebert, co-director of the creative writing program at UNB, said in a university press release that Parker’s novel being longlisted for the Giller Prize was a win for the whole campus community.

“Fawn is a very talented writer and this nomination bodes well for her career going forward. When writers in the local creative writing community get recognized for major prizes, it’s a lift for everyone around them,” said Heubert in the release.

The winner of this year’s Giller Prize was announced on Nov. 7 and was awarded to Suzette Mayr for her novel, The Sleeping Car Porter.