The tension in the room was palpable. It was the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Toronto. The media and a who’s who of the literary community were there. The jury sat quietly. The anxious nominees fidgeted awaiting the verdict. Tuesday night was the moment five Canadian novelists only dream about – a chance to win this country’s richest fiction prize, the Giller. Four were waiting to be told they were second-best. One learned from the envelope in (Giller founder) Jack Robinovitch’s hand that the prize was won.
“And the winner is…” the representative of ScotiaBank said, “Will Ferguson and ‘419.’”
“Wow,” Ferguson said in response. “I want to thank…” and the list went on. And yes, he thanked his mom. “Number four son did you proud.”
It must have been an extraordinary moment. A 40-year-old inventor in the 15th century city of Mainz, Germany, had experimented with metal alloys, molds, a pressing machine and oil-based ink. He took handmade paper, placed it in his press and moved the letters of the alphabet into position to print a 42-line piece of writing. He repeated the process 30 times to create a book. The book was a short Bible. The inventor was Johann Gutenberg. And the invention was history’s first mass printing of the world’s first published book.
“Incomparably the greatest event in the history of the world,” Mark Twain wrote 400 years later.