Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Feature! Clara Hughes Wins an Unprecendented Second CBC Canada Reads Victory for Lawrence Hill

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The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

This morning, Lawrence Hill became the first author to ever win two CBC Canada Reads titles. With olympian Clara Hughes championing The Illegal (HarperCollins Canada), Hill's novel was crowned as the most essential book for all of Canada to read, and the one that best captured the 2016 Canada Reads theme, "starting over".

It was a lively and unpredictable year for Canada Reads, with listeners unsure which book would emerge victorious until the final moment. The final day got off to an exciting start with panellist Bruce Poon Tip announcing that though his chosen title, Birdie (HarperCollins Canada) by Tracy Lindberg, had been voted off on the penultimate day of the debates, he would personally be donating 10,000 copies of the book to schools in Canada and encouraged educators to visit a site set up for the purpose, 10,000 Birdies.com.

As the debate proper began, host Gill Deacon got things started by asking all five panellists questions including "Which character amongst the books shows the most courage?" "What moment was the most powerful for you?" and "Which book gets you to the Canada you want to live in?"

The panellists universally praised the writing in The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami (Vintage Canada), one of the two final titles in the competition, while the pacing and energy of The Illegal won admiration. Panellist Adam Copeland put it vividly, saying reading Hill's book is "like you're barrelling down a hill in San Francisco with your brake lines cut".

There was a mutual respect between the remaining panellists in the fight, Clara Hughes (defending The Illegal) and Vinay Virmani (defending The Hero's walk). Hughes at one point said to Virmani of his chosen title, "It's a great book, I love it too". After their impassioned final speeches defending their books, the two high-fived.

When the votes rolled in, gasps were heard in the studio as Poon Tip's vote to remove The Hero's Walk was read. Poon Tip had seemed earlier in the debate to be favouring Badami's novel. Panellist Farah Mohamed voted to kick off The Illegal, while the deciding vote came down to Copeland, who had visibly struggled with picking between the two highly praised books while filling out his ballot. His vote against The Hero's Walk made Hill, whose novel The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada) previously won Canada Reads, the first author to have ever won the competition twice.

Once the winner was announced, Hill himself made a surprise appearance, thanking Hughes and all the panellists for their hard work. "It's a great honour and really humbling," he said. "Any one of these books could have and should have won".

When asked how the experience had effected them, the panellists were positive. "I'm going to read more, listen more... and I'm a reader!" said Mohamed, while Copeland was excited to bring new readers to Canadian literature through the competition, saying "We're opening the eyes of a new generation of readers". Poon Tip added that he was excited to go back and read all fourteen previous Canada Reads winners.

The panellists also alluded to how much energy went into the debates. When asked if they would come back for a second round, Hughes laughed and said, "No! It's so stressful!"

While Virmani was clearly disappointed that the vote went against The Hero's Walk, he was praised by his fellow debaters for his passionate defence. It was also announced that Virmani, a filmmaker, has purchased the film rights to the book and plans to bring it to the big screen.

Hill himself closed the debates by thanking the participants a final time. He mentioned being nervous about listening in during the week, fearing it would be difficult to hear his book criticized and torn apart, but he was pleasantly surprised by the positive and balanced approach of the panel, and thanked them all for "showing such class".

Both Hill and Hughes will appear on q tomorrow morning to discuss their win, the Canada Reads experience and what being a two-time Canada Reads champion will mean going forward.

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