We are delighted that Calgary queer author Suzette Mayr has won the 2022 Giller Prize for her latest novel, The Sleeping Car Porter. It is the story of Baxter, a closeted gay Black man working as a porter on a Canadian passenger train in 1929.
Of the winning book, the jury wrote:
“Suzette Mayr brings to life –believably, achingly, thrillingly –a whole world contained in a passenger train moving across the Canadian vastness, nearly one hundred years ago. As only occurs in the finest historical novels, every page in The Sleeping Car Porter feels alive and immediate –and eerily contemporary. The sleeping car porter in this sleek, stylish novel is named R.T. Baxter –called George by the people upon whom he waits, as is every other Black porter. Baxter’s dream of one day going to school to learn dentistry coexists with his secret life as a gay man, and in Mayr’s triumphant novel we follow him not only from Montreal to Calgary, but into and out of the lives of an indelibly etched cast of supporting characters, and, finally, into a beautifully rendered radiance.”
We last saw Suzette two years ago in the depths of the Covid pandemic at the Fernie Pride Festival. There was a window in September 2020 when public health restrictions allowed for outdoor gatherings in restricted numbers. So despite the evening chill and the anxiety of the early pandemic, Suzette came out for Pride. Her author talk and reading was from Monoceros—a previously celebrated, queer-themed work, which had been long-listed for the Giller Prize.
Our literary event host, author Angie Abdou, and Suzette were good-humoured about the hot drinks, warm clothes and torch heaters that made the event possible. Despite the obstacles, we were all so grateful to be together after months of being home alone. Thank you, Suzette, for showing up for the queer community the way you do. We’re such big fans and proud of your success—congratulations!
I have lived in the Beltline for most of my adult life, which has also been central to Calgary’s queer community for more than 50 years. Additionally, most historians I know are voracious readers. Consequently, it is no surprise that my favourite Beltline store is Shelf Life Books.
Shelf Life has an interesting queer history itself as the site of the former Parkside Continental gay bar. There is an excellent mural on the backside of the store by Kyle Simmers, that subtly evokes this history with the inclusion of the bar’s now iconic logo.
The book store has been the largest seller of my book, Our Past Matters, and has hosted yycgayhistory special events for which I am very grateful. They also stock the books of queer friends and colleagues. Pick up any book by Suzette Mayr, Vivek Shraya, or Rae Spoon and you won’t be disappointed. Sharanpal Ruprai, whom I adore as a person, writes books of poetry that sing, charm, and sizzle. They also carry more comprehensive Canadian queer history readers such as the Valerie Korinek’s Prairie Fairies and The ArQuives‘ recently published OutNorth.
In fact, all independent book stores in Calgary need our custom. Furthermore think hyperlocal—support Calgary authors by buying their books. If you need inspiration, there is no greater source than Shaun Hunter’s Calgary Reading Lists. She virtually single-handedly has created a canon of local literature, as well as a useful reader in Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers.
I am wishing all Calgarians a safe, happy, and restful holiday season. Take care of yourselves and each other—find joy in unexpected places. — Kevin