Tonight, one of Vancouver's masters of the English language seemed for a moment to be at a loss for words.
It occurred after UBC creative writing assistant professor Ian Williams was honoured with the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his debut novel Reproduction at a gala event in Toronto.
It's Canada's richest literary award, coming with a $100,000 prize.
"I've got notes here for people I need to thank but maybe I'll just start with my heart first," Williams said after regaining his composure. "Margaret Atwood over there is the first book I bought with my own money at a bookstore in Brampton."
Reproduction is set in his hometown of Brampton and tells the story of a cross-cultural family.
"It's an engrossing story of disparate people brought together and also a masterful unfolding of unexpected connections and collisions between and across lives otherwise separated by race, class, gender and geography," the jury citation states. "It's a pointed and often playfully plotting out of individual and shared stories in the close spaces of hospital rooms, garages, mansions and apartments, and a symphonic performance of resonant and dissonant voices, those of persons wanting to impress, persuade, deny, or beguile others, and always trying again."
Williams earned a PhD in English at the University of Toronto and prior to winning the Giller was best known as a poet.
“I think the way that life works is that we get both sides, right?" Williams told Georgia Straight contributor David Chau earlier this year. "On one hand, we don’t choose the families that we’re born into, but then we can choose our futures and choose our mates, and choose the families.
“Given the way life is designed, we’re not even obligated to make that decision," Williams continued. "You’re both locked into something and you choose an alternative.”
Williams wasn't the only member of UBC's creative writing department among the six finalists.
Also nominated was department chair Alix Ohlin for Dual Citizens.
As a runner-up, she collected a $10,000 award.
And a UBC creative writing alumna, Megan Gail Coles, was another runner-up, receiving $10,000 for Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Club.
A fourth writer on the shortlist, Steven Price, is from Victoria. He was nominated for Lampedusa.
The other two runner-ups were Michael Crummey for The Innocents and David Bezmozgis for Immigrant City.