Manitoban author David Bergen and his story collection Here the Dark are nominated for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Announced on Sept. 8, Bergen was nominated alongside other established and emerging Canadian authors, including Emma Donoghue, Thomas King, Annabel Lyon and first-time novelist Francesca Ekwuyasi. Bergen won the 2005 Giller Prize for his novel The Time Between and was previously nominated three additional times.
Here the Dark is Bergen’s first book of short stories in 27 years. Here the Dark contains stories written over the last 20 years. The oldest story in the collection, How can n men share a bottle of vodka, won the CBC Short Story Prize in 1999.
In this collection, the eponymous story is a novella he originally intended to be a novel. “I had written 250 to 300 pages, and I sensed that something was wrong with it,” Bergen says. “Sometimes, the story shapes itself. It had the density of a novella.” Bergen cut 150 pages from the manuscript to find the story that appears in the collection.
Like many of his characters, the protagonist in the novella is from a rural Mennonite community. While his characters are often people of faith, Bergen says he has strayed far from his rural Mennonite upbringing.
Instead, Bergen says “I have tremendous faith in stories and in telling stories and learning from stories. Often, the learning comes at you sideways. I’m actually more interested in doubt. I’m more interested in questions than I am in answers. I’m not sure answers are as easy as we think they are.”
Bergen writes more novels than short stories, which is why this collection took more than 20 years to come together.
“I think poetry is the toughest to write, and then the short story. I think a novel can be more forgiving,” Bergen says.
When it comes to reading and writing during this time of social upheaval, Bergen says “I think we forget that we need stories. We get lost in our insular worlds and our technology and the fear of what is happening around us. I think stories are age-old. We sat around fires and told stories.”
Despite having won the Giller Prize before, Bergen is humbled by the nomination.
“Any time (I am nominated) is always a surprise. It’s never something that you take for granted.”
In fact, the Giller Prize is extra helpful during the pandemic, because with the loss of in-person book launches and readings, it can be difficult to sell books. “During this time (the Giller nomination) does give another chance, because it has been quiet, so it is lovely for (the book) to have a second run,” Bergen says.
The Giller Prize shortlist will be announced on Oct. 5 at 9 a.m. at scotiabankgillerprize.ca/live, and the Giller Prize award ceremony will be broadcast on CBC and CBC Gem at 8 p.m.
Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)