Shelagh Armstrong and the Giller Rose

By September 24, 2015ArtistPortfolios

The Giller Prize is one of the few yearly events that I have anticipated for most of my adult life. It has championed Canadian literary talent for 21 years and in that time I have been introduced to an amazing number of authors I may not have otherwise noticed.

This year’s longlist of nominated authors was released earlier this month. Along with that list is a lovely illustration of a rose. It was’s Shelagh Armstrong that painted that lovely watercolour flower. I hadn’t really noticed the floral motif associated with the prize before and I became curious: what does the rose signify?

Back in 1993, Doris Giller, an esteemed Canadian literary journalist, lost her battle with cancer. Her husband, Montreal developer Jack Rabinovitch, and Mordecai Richler, the brilliant Montreal author who passed away in 2001, decided to honour her by creating a literary award in her name. And the rose? Doris loved flowers and so the invitation to the inaugural award ceremony was decorated with a rose. The Giller Prize, the most prestigious and generous literary award in Canada, was a loving tribute. I didn’t know that.

Here’s how all this has affected me. When I look at the rose that Shelagh painted 21 years after the tradition commenced, I recognize the love and admiration that Jack had for Doris. I see the respect and friendship that Mordecai offered her. I understand that the award is meant to spread Doris Giller’s love of Canadian literature, not just point out which are the best books of the last year. You could say I appreciate the award much more than I had before seeing the rose.

And, because I am immersed in illustration every day, I am still amazed at how the right illustrator can make me think about something more deeply than I may otherwise have done.

Well done, Shelagh!

You can view more of Shelagh’s work at

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