November 09

Omar El Akkad wins the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize

By Wayne Baggs

It was a red carpet ceremony for the 28th Annual Award gala for The Giller Prize. Omar El Akkad was named the winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel, What Strange Paradise,

The announcement was made at a black-tie dinner and award ceremony hosted by poet, artist and performer Rupi Kaur and Canadian actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, attended by about 200 members of the publishing, media and arts communities. Presented by Scotia Wealth Management, the gala was broadcast live and commercial-free by Canada’s national public broadcaster on CBC TV and CBC Radio One and streamed live on CBC Gem and

The remaining finalists, listed below, each receive $10,000:

Angélique Lalonde for her story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings,
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia for her novel The Son of The House,
Jordan Tannahill for his novel The Listeners and Miriam Toews for her novel Fight Night.
The longlist, shortlist, and winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize were selected by a five-member jury panel: Canadian authors Zalika Reid-Benta (Jury Chair), Megan Gail Coles and Joshua Whitehead, Malaysian novelist Tash Aw and American author Joshua Ferris. The jury narrowed down the 132 submitted works to 12 to create the longlist and on October 5, announced the shortlisted authors before picking tonight’s winner.

Of the winning book, the jury wrote:

“Amid all the anger and confusion surrounding the global refugee crisis, Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise paints a portrait of displacement and belonging that is at once unflinching and tender. In examining the confluence of war, migration and a sense of settlement, it raises questions of indifference and powerlessness and, ultimately, offers clues as to how we might reach out empathetically in a divided world.”

Omar El Akkad is an author and journalist. His debut novel, American War, was an international bestseller and has been translated into thirteen languages. It won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, and the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

CBC Radio’s q had a recap at 10 a.m. ET (10:30 NT) the following morning with an interview with Omar El Akkad, while the  gala can be relived online at

The author answered questions about his book during a live Twitter chat hosted by @GillerPrize on Wednesday, November 10, at 2 p.m. ET using the hashtag #GillerWinner.

“It’s nothing short of thrilling to be here tonight to celebrate all the finalists and to honour Omar El Akkad on his win for What Strange Paradise. The book is unflinching in its examination of our current refugee crisis and the lengths to which people will go to find home, safety and belonging. A brilliant book by a brilliant author to whom I wish continued success and ongoing recognition.”
Elana Rabinovitch, Executive Director, Scotiabank Giller Prize

“Congratulations to Omar El Akkad for winning the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize! Scotiabank is steadfast in its commitment to the arts in Canada, and we are proud to showcase Canada’s incredible literary talent through the Scotiabank Giller Prize. We are thrilled that this partnership, which began in 2005, has helped raise the profile of Canadian authors at home and around the world. Congratulations again to Omar El Akkad and welcome to the Scotiabank Giller Prize family. Thank you to all of the short and longlisted authors for inspiring and enriching us with your stories.”
John Doig, Executive Vice President, Retail Sales, Scotiabank


The winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize will be honoured with a virtual interview as part of the on-line 2022 San Miguel Writers’ Conference & Literary Festival, on February 13, 2022. This is the second year the Literary Festival has gone online, to much success. Other notable interviews have included both Tom Hanks and Matthew McConaughey, along with Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Isabel Wilkerson, Emma Donoghue, and many more.

The winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize will be given an opportunity to explore, expand, and develop their practice during a two-week, self-directed residency in Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s exclusive Leighton Artists’ Studios. Located on Treaty 7 Territory in Banff National Park, Banff Centre is Canada’s largest post- graduate arts and leadership training institute (

About the Prize
The Giller Prize, founded by Jack Rabinovitch in 1994, highlights the very best in Canadian fiction year after year. In 2005, the Prize teamed up with Scotiabank who increased the winnings four-fold. The Scotiabank Giller Prize now awards $100,000 annually to the author of the best Canadian novel, graphic novel or short story collection published in English, and $10,000 to each of the finalists. The award is named in honour of the late literary journalist Doris Giller by her husband Toronto businessman Jack Rabinovitch, who passed away in August 2017.

We would like to thank Robyn Mogil, TARO PR for the invitation to this event.