Lifetime Achievement Award
Guy Vanderhaeghe is a national treasure who has written his way into the annals of great Canadian authors. He has received numerous awards for his writing. His first book, Man Descending, received a Governor General’s Award and the United Kingdom’s Faber Prize. His novel The Englishman’s Boy won him a second Governor General’s Award, Saskatchewan Book Awards in two categories, and a place on the short list for the Giller Prize. Two later books also based on the history of the West, The Last Crossing and A Good Man, have earned several awards. His most recent work, Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, published in 2015, also won a Governor General’s Award.
“Awards are always hard to put into perspective,” he says. “I’ve been very grateful for each one I’ve received, and also very surprised. My response is: ‘Who, me?’ Having already received one lifetime achievement award, a second is also a little scary,” he adds with a laugh. “Is there a hidden message there?” Vanderhaeghe is a member of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, and an Officer of the Order of Canada.
After earning three degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, he worked there as a research officer and as an archival and library assistant from 1973 to 1977. He then spent an extremely busy year at the University of Regina, packing a heavy course load for an education degree into one year so he could fulfill a contract to teach high school in Herbert, Saskatchewan.
Much of Vanderhaeghe’s writing is rooted in the 19th-century West; he finds the fresh new ground of this relatively unexploited field attractive. He credits his years as a graduate student in history and his work as an archivist for giving him the basic skills needed to ferret out information essential to a historical novel. Unlike an academic historian, however, his focus is on what he calls the textures of the past: details such as what people ate, how they dressed and how they entertained themselves.
“He is simply the greatest, most widely applauded writer to come out of this province, by all accounts a beloved teacher and mentor, and he is very good company.”
“Above all, I’m interested in how individuals regarded and responded to the world in which they lived, and in showing that while their ideas about certain matters diverged from ours, they still faced and wrestled with many of the same human quandaries that we do,” he says. “I think that paying attention to details is what makes fiction – any kind of fiction – come alive for readers.”
Fellow author and editor David Carpenter recalls reading one of Vanderhaeghe’s short stories almost 40 years ago, and knowing immediately “… this writer was the real thing. We must have met about 1981, and by 1982 I had become the self appointed president of his fan club.”
Carpenter says Vanderhaeghe’s work is as perceptive and hard-edged as the early work of Sinclair Ross, who wrote about Depression-era Saskatchewan. They both knew about the severities of life in rural Saskatchewan, he observes, but Vanderhaeghe’s work has a greater range than Ross’s Depression stories. “Guy’s stories and novels can be simultaneously grotesque and witty; and at the end of each work, there are no easy answers,” Carpenter states. “He is simply the greatest, most widely applauded writer to come out of this province, by all accounts a beloved teacher and mentor, and he is very good company.”